Coach Ray Mears Should Get The Honor He Deserves

Sunday, January 15, 2006 - by Jerre Haskew

I attended the inaugural meeting of the Big Orange Tipoff Club in Knoxville last Wednesday, where there was an emotional, enthusiastic overflow SRO crowd of about 500 people at Calhoun's On The River. Coaches Bruce Pearl, Pat Summitt and UT ADs Mike Hamilton and Joan Cronan were in attendance to hear the great Voice of the Vols, John Ward, make the inaugural speech - his first since he retired in 1998.

Ward's theme was (to paraphrase) "Tennessee is a football school, but most all of today's UT traditions were originated by Coach Ray Mears and his basketball program" - including building Tennessee athletics around the unique UT Orange color (no one wore it off the field/court before Mears' and his teams' orange blazers), inventing Big Orange and Big Orange Country, originating the "Power T" with his players running through a giant "T" with dimmed lights at Stokely Center and passing along the idea to Coach Doug Dickey to put it on the football helmets, suggesting to Dr Jay Julian and Dickey to have the football team run through a giant T formed by the marching band and originating the playing of Rocky Top by the UT Pep band at basketball games (1974) with band members in full uniform marching around the court. Dr Julian picked up the idea of using it for UT's fight song through Mears.

He also originated marketing athletics at UT through the Orange Tie Club, Big Orange Country billboards and colorful circus/Globetrotter pregame warmup drills and, of course, the famed "Bernie & Ernie" show featuring UT All-Americans Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as "Double Trouble from Tennessee" in 1977.

Coach Mears was forced to retire in his and his program's prime at age 47 because of severe manic depression with a 399-131 record (# 1 winning percentage in the nation at that time), which projected over another 20 years would have easily equated to 800-900 wins. Competing in an era when only 16 teams (his last year 24) were invited to the NCAA Tourney, under today's 65 team format, all of his 15 teams would have been low seeds in the NCAA tourney and would probably have made several Final Fours and possibly won one or more NCAA titles.

There is a great deal of grassroots and trustee support to co-name the UT basketball arena Ray Mears Arena at Thompson-Boling Assembly Center for his 30+ years of service to UT, including 10 years as athletic director at UT Martin, where all of his men's and women's teams finished in the Top 10 in America in their division during his tenure. In addition, he doubled the size of the football stadium there and got the school admitted to the Ohio Valley Conference.

His courageous continuing battle against severe mental and several life-threatening physical illnesses is indeed a profile in courage at the age of 76.

Ray Mears Arena At Thompson-Boling Assembly Center - an idea whose time has come.

THE REAL BIG ORANGE
(TO MY FRIEND AND MENTOR, COACH RAY MEARS)

BY JERRE R HASKEW
@COPYRIGHT JANUARY, 2006

HE WAS ONLY THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OLD
WHEN BOWDEN BROUGHT HIM TO THE FOLD
WITH STU AND TOMMY BY HIS SIDE
HE FILLED US ALL WITH WINNING PRIDE
AND THE COLOR HE WORE WAS ORANGE
HOW WE REMEMBER…..

THE GIANT “T,” THE DIMMING LIGHTS
THE PACKED HOUSE ROARED AND ROCKED THE NIGHTS
AT STOKELY, HOW HE MADE IT FUN
THE BARNUM’S MAGIC HAD BEGUN
AND THE COATS THEY WORE WERE ORANGE
YES, WE REMEMBER….

BIG ORANGE COUNTRY ON THE SIGNS
AND BILLY IN STARKVILLE ON THE LINE
A.W., RON AND STOKELY CHEERS
FOR ERNIE G. AND THE KING OF THE VOLUNTEERS
HIS WARRIORS OF THE ORANGE
COACH, WE REMEMBER….

HE DUELED THE BARON; THE ROOF WE RAISED
AND SKINNED THE ‘CATS IN THOSE GREAT DAYS
JOHN’S VOICE SENT SIGNALS THROUGH THE SKY
AND “BOTTOM!!” BECAME OUR BATTLE CRY
THE PROUD CHAMPIONS OF THE ORANGE
RAY, WE REMEMBER….

TRAGIC ILLNESS STRUCK HIM IN HIS PRIME
HAD TO LEAVE HIS POST LONG BEFORE HIS TIME
BUT THE LEGEND STILL LIVES ON TODAY
TRUE TO HIS WORD HE CAME HOME TO STAY
IN THE COUNTRY HE NAMED BIG ORANGE
WE STILL REMEMBER….

DEAN AND THE GENERAL PLEASE HEED OUR CALL
AND NOMINATE HIM FOR THE HALL
TO HONOR HIM WITH DESERVED FAME
LIKE THE HOME THAT NOW SHOULD BEAR HIS NAME
AND OVERFLOW WITH ORANGE
GREAT ONES REMEMBER….

THINGS HAVEN’T BEEN THE SAME SINCE HIS DAY
BUT FAR BETTER TIMES ARE NOW ON THE WAY
TO RELIVE THOSE GLORY DAYS AGAIN
HE’S GLADLY LENT A FATHER’S HAND
TO THE NEW ONE WHO LEADS THE ORANGE
COACH PEARL REMEMBERS….

BIG ORANGE IT WAS MEARS’ CREATION
“DOUBLE TROUBLE” TOOK IT ‘CROSS THE NATION
THE WIZARD OF ORANGE HAS NEVER STOPPED
WE CLIMBED WITH HIM TO ROCKY TOP
AND HE STILL BLEEDS BIG ORANGE
MIKE HAMILTON REMEMBER….

IT’S TIME FOR US TO HEED THIS CALL
TRUE VOLUNTEERS, HE NEEDS US ALL
TO TELL OUR NEW LEADER WHO NOW SERVES
PLEASE GIVE COACH MEARS WHAT HE DESERVES
FOR BRINGING US THE ORANGE
THE TRUTH, REMEMBER….

HIS LEGACY IS OUR BIG ORANGE HOME
AND TO ADD HIS NAME THE TIME HAS COME
TO THOMPSON-BOLING AND THE SUMMITT COURT
BIG ORANGE FAITHFUL GIVE YOUR SUPPORT
FOR HIM-- THE REAL BIG ORANGE
LET US ALL STAND AND REMEMBER….

HE WAS ONLY THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OLD
WHEN BOWDEN BROUGHT HIM TO THE FOLD
THOUGH HIS GLORY YEARS HAVE COME AND GONE
STILL HIS LEGACY LIVES ON AND ON
IN OUR COUNTRY HE NAMED BIG ORANGE
PLEASE HONOR HIM, REMEMBER.

RAY MEARS ARENA AT THOMPSON-BOLING ASSEMBLY CENTER

Jerre R. Haskew
Cumberland Road
Chattanooga
Jrichas@aol.com


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