The recent death of George McKinney, former Tennessee assistant football coach, multiplied my old Vol memories.
On a foggy Monday morning, Oct. 18, 1965, between 6:30 and 6:45, three coaches and their Volkswagen bug were struck by a train at a West Knoxville grade crossing, Cessna Drive at Westland. The crash was fatal for Bill Majors, Charlie Rash and Bob Jones.
Doug Dickey, in his second year as head coach, was masterful in this time of crisis. He met every obligation, did all he could for the affected families and held the Vols together to finish a good season.
McKinney was part of the emergency solution. As had Dickey, George came to Tennessee from Arkansas to be part of the football reconstruction. He was freshman coach until Majors died. In a blink, he became coach of the varsity secondary.
McKinney was a little older than Harold Stancell, Jerry Smith, Doug Archibald and Bob Petrella. They got along. The Vols won six of their last seven, finished 8-1-2 and 10th in the AP poll.
McKinney had two kinds of toughness, physical and mental. He grew up in Texarkana, Texas, and played high school football, baseball and basketball. He was all-state in football his junior year. He wasn’t real big or real fast but he was smart and real tough.
George became a quarterback and safety at Arkansas for Frank Broyles, 1959-1961, and was a team captain as a senior. This was a time when football players played real football, offense and defense.
Did I mention tough?
“He was an ironman,” recalled Ken Hatfield, another former Razorback who became a Volunteer coach.
In the 1961 Arkansas opener against Ole Miss in Jackson, George played and played some more.
“Our backup quarterback was injured. It was hotter than blazes. George played the whole game, offense and defense. He didn’t come out for one play.”
Hatfield recalled that McKinney coached much as he had played.
“He was a very precise coach. He was totally dedicated to coaching and recruiting. He was very aggressive in his coaching, and he wanted the players to play that way, too.”
When Dickey left Tennessee for Florida in 1970, McKinney went along as an assistant.
The next season, when old Vol Charlie Coffey became head coach at Virginia Tech, McKinney joined him as an assistant. When that staff (including Chuck Rohe) didn’t quite make it in Blacksburg, McKinney got out of coaching and worked in business, in Little Rock with Lindsey Management.
Three or four years ago, George moved back to East Tennessee, to Lenoir City. He fought off illness as long as he could and died last Monday at UT Medical Center. He was 82. He was buried at Concord Masonic Cemetery.
“Coach McKinney always was a favorite among us players and a very loyal friend to all of us after our days on the Hill,” said old Vol Jerry Holloway, a former offensive tackle.
Jerry didn’t have to do all the running Tennessee defensive backs did.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com