After starring in football, basketball and baseball at Science Hill High School, he went on to play football at the University of Florida, winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy. After a decade-plus career in the NFL where he was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his greatest fame was as a coach.
He is the winningest coach at both Florida, where his Gators won the 1996 national championship, and South Carolina. He also won an ACC championship at Duke, and coached professionally with the Washington Redskins in the NFL and the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL.
Most recently, he coached the Orlando Apollos to a 7-1 record in the American Alliance of Football, the best in the league.
AFTER YOUR FAMILY MOVED HERE FROM NEWPORT, WHY DO YOU THINK THERE WAS AN INSTANT CONNECTION WITH JOHNSON CITY?
“I look back now and realize that was one of those special moments. We all believe God directs our path. My dad and mom were called up to Calvary Presbyterian in Johnson City and our path led us to be there sixth grade all the way through 12th grade.
“It was a blessing to grow up in the school system there. The high school coaches I had, Elvin Little in basketball, Kermit Tipton in football and John Broyles in baseball, were all terrific. They were all different and had different styles.”
HOW DID THOSE COACHES INFLUENCE YOU?
“We had the most success in baseball and Coach Broyles hardly ever raised his voice. He was quietest of the coaches, but we won two state championships. We didn’t have a lot of signals, but for whatever reason, we always expected to win. We always felt someone would make a play, someone would get an out or get a hit when we needed them to.”
“Coach Tipton was a real disciplinarian. We were in shape and ready to play the game. I don’t think I ever came off the field. I played safety on defense. I punted and kicked off. A lot of us played both ways. (Tom) Hager did. I remember he was the center, but Coach Tipton always had us ready to play. We had a good team, but we lost some close ones where our record wasn’t that great. But, we won our last four or five in a row and finished No. 9 in the state.”
“Coach Little, I probably coach the most like him. He was always yelling encouragement to the guys, like, ‘C’mon, let’s go.’ People who have heard me on the sidelines tell me I’m like Coach Little. He was a wonderful coach to play for.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU THAT SCIENCE HILL STARTING QUARTERBACKS NOW WEAR THE NO. 11 UNIFORM?
“I appreciate Coach (Stacy) Carter who started it a while back. I talked with him and the athletic director Keith Turner and told them if they wanted to take the No. 11 out of retirement it was fine with me. I like seeing a player wearing it. I did the same thing when I became the coach at Florida and took the No. 11 out of retirement. I’m glad a player is wearing it and for Coach Carter to name the starter with the No. 11 is pretty neat.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE PART OF THE HEISMAN FRATERNITY?
“Certainly winning the Heisman is something for the rest of your life. Some people always get introduced as the Heisman Trophy winner, although I usually get introduced as the winningest coach at Florida or South Carolina.
“The Heisman is about the best individual honor a person can receive, but it’s still about team championships, especially the national championship. Those are championships you share with your friends and everybody on the team. If someone said, ‘Would you rather have the Heisman or the Southeastern Conference championship as a player,’ I would take the championship because we would be celebrating it the rest of our lives.
“The guys I played with, when we get together, we talk about how lost the close ones and don’t have those championships to celebrate.”
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS, NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, STINTS IN THE NFL, USFL AND AAF, WHEN YOU REFLECT ON SUCH A DISTINGUISHED CAREER, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
“It was the consistency. We won SEC championships at Florida and were in the hunt the other five years. At South Carolina, we won the only division title in school history. Although we didn’t win the SEC, we had some good teams and finished top 10 three years in a row. We had a good consistent run.
“The one at Duke, winning the ACC, I was fortunate to coach some good teams at Duke. The consistency of our teams, year-in and year-out, competing for the championships, you can’t always get one, but we were right there.”