Tennessee takes a hit: Tim Priest has retired

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee football took another hit today. It suffered a significant loss. Tim Priest retired as game analyst and interviewer for the Vol Network. He did the job for 22 seasons. Former quarterback Pat Ryan is his replacement.

Tim was a radio realist. He was never mean-spirited but he made a sincere effort to tell it like it was – in a gentle sort of way. He wanted the Vols to succeed every Saturday but seemed to grasp that was not possible because several comparable or better programs were trying to do the same thing.

Tim provided rock-solid perspective. Of course, he recognized great plays. He also saw breakdowns and blunders. He had been there and done that. He was a standout Tennessee safety in 1968-70. He was team captain and all-SEC as a senior. He was an academic all-American. He remains the Vols’ career leader in interceptions with 18. He had a school-record three picks against Alabama in 1970.

You better believe we remember such accomplishments.

Tim was modest. He never thought he was as good as he was. He knew the team scheme. He read the field correctly. He praised linebackers who covered underneath.

Regarding his spectacular Third Saturday in October, Priest said, “Scott Hunter threw the football right to me. I never made a spectacular athletic play to get an interception. We had a well-coached team concept and I was in the right place to catch the ball.”

This may come as a shock, but there has long been more to Timothy Priest’s life than Tennessee football. There is family, faith, friends and a very interesting law career. There are typical challenges, assorted adventures and spectacular sightseeing, home and abroad. There is even an occasional golf match.

Once a Vol, always a Vol? Of course. Tennessee football has always been a considerable part of who Tim Priest is. He is a fan and supporter. He understands the awful difference in winning and losing, what it takes to earn championships, difficulties in recruiting, traps and stumbling blocks scattered across the college game.

In retirement, he’ll still be there, hoping Josh Heupel can restore credibility. He just won’t say as much.

Through the years, he has said some very interesting things.

In 1966, when Doug Dickey arrived in Huntingdon to sign the quarterback and captain, Tim said it was a pretty big deal.

“Half the town turned out for the occasion. They knew all they wanted to know about me. They wanted to see Coach Dickey.”

Priest said he was pleased and honored to receive a scholarship.

“I was from a small high school. I wasn’t sure I was good enough to play. I also had some trepidation about academic expectations.”

No problem.

I once asked if Alabama had shown any recruiting interest. Tim said yes and no.

“Ken Donahue came to practice one day. I saw him. He stayed about 30 minutes. I never heard from him or Alabama again.”

Priest prayed the same prayer before every game. He didn’t ask for a victory. He didn’t ask for an interception.

“I prayed I didn’t get killed or make a fool of myself.”

Regarding the Jackson Massacre, the 38-0 loss to Ole Miss in 1968, Priest recalled the hostile environment. He said that if the Vols hadn’t made an appearance, the Rebels would have chosen up sides and fought among themselves.

“They were going to have a battle that day. They played very well. We were awful.”

Priest appreciated what he learned at the university.

“Being a Tennessee football player taught discipline, teamwork and hard work. You learned to perform under pressure. Believe me, that helped when I was standing before a jury, trying to win a case.”

Asked if the great pass defense of 1970 would work today, Priest said “The passing game is far more complicated. There is so much speed. Those guys we were covering and tackling couldn’t get away from anything.”

Priest was precise in his first assessment of Eric Berry, freshman safety in 2007.

“I think he’s a terrific player. He’s fast. He’s a hitter. He’s got moxie. He’s got savvy. He’s got instincts that not everybody has.”

A little later, Priest said Berry saw the game in front of him and immediately knew what was going on.

“He’s as impressive as anybody I can remember in the secondary.”

A couple of years later, NFL scouts said much the same thing.

Some very interesting things have been said about the lawyer and radio personality. When he was elected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of fame, there was a state senate proclamation:

“Whereas, Tim Priest is a good and honorable man …”

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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