For the better part of the past 25 years, there has been a monthly gathering of former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga letterman who value the common thread they all share.
The group refers to themselves as “Scrappy’s Boys”, honoring the late Moc football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore for whom many of them played during his 37-year coaching tenure in Chattanooga. The get-togethers serve as a time to reminisce about old times, mourn the death of another comrade and offer solutions to the world’s problems.
“Scrappy’s Boys” are a close-knit group, having invested the years of their youth at Chamberlain Field and now spend their energy serving as a driving force in support of anything related to UTC. They are loyal to their brothers who wore the blue and gold, which made Thursday’s meeting even more special.
The group took a detour from their regular gathering spot at Wally’s Restaurant to meet at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club to welcome one of their own. Rusty Wright, a four-year letterman at UTC who was named head football coach in December, was invited to share his insights on his return to Chattanooga.
“It’s priceless to be with these guys because we’ve all been there,” Wright said. “We’ve all stayed in the dorms and walked those same hills, so that’s what’s cool about being with these men. When you’ve got sweat equity into something, it means a little more.”
Having graduated from UTC in 1996, Wright had two stints as an assistant coach with the Mocs during his 22-year coaching career. He was on the staffs of Buddy Green and Donnie Kirkpatrick from 1996-2002, then as an assistant to Russ Huesman between 2013-16.
But Wright always knew his path would someday lead him back to Chattanooga.
“My wife and I were looking through some old pictures last weekend and I came across the letter I was given when (athletic director) Steve Sloan decided to let Donnie go as head coach in 2002,” Wright said. “We had a couple of average years and lost our first nine games that third season. We’d heard the rumors that a change was coming so by the time we got to the end of the season, all I had in my office was a TV, a VCR and a phone because I’d already moved all my crap out.
“They fired us on the way down to Charleston to play The Citadel with three games left in the season. Well, we won the next two. I walked down to Sloan’s office and said, ‘Coach, I appreciate it and I know you’ve got to do what you think is best, but you should have fired us at the start of the season and we might’ve won the national championship.’”
Wright kept that letter announcing his termination because he knew that wasn’t the final chapter of his time at UTC.
“I knew I’d come back. Some how, some way, I knew I’d be back because I always wanted to be back here,” Wright said. “This place is important to me for a lot of different reasons. All I can promise is that I pour everything I’ve got into this program every day. You guys are what makes this place special. I didn’t take this job to be the head coach, I took this job because I wanted to do it right and give UTC the opportunity to be as good as we can be.”
Hearing Wright’s passion and knowing his pedigree was music to the ears of Bert Caldwell. Caldwell played defensive back under Moore after transferring from Ole Miss in 1962.
“It’s wonderful to have Coach Wright here,” Caldwell said. “It’s the best thing in the world because this is a guy who’s coaching his alma mater and he’s invested into the program. It doesn’t get any better. It means something to him, and it means a lot to us former players as well.”
Wright’s return to Chattanooga after two seasons at Georgia State represents more than just the opportunity to become a head coach.
“Everything I have good in my life is because of this university,” Wright said. “My wife, my child and my job are all connected to Chattanooga and you can’t put a price tag on that. Words wouldn’t do it justice, and it’s more special because these former players care about the program. Just being around them is an honor. There’s not a lot of places at this level that are this special.”
Wright was part of UTC’s football success under Huesman, and he’s even added the former coach’s son, Jacob, as a member of his staff. He’s actively involved in promoting the program across the region every chance he gets.
“I’ve been all over hell’s half-acre the last few months speaking to anybody who will listen about what we’re doing here, and I’ll continue to do so,” Wright said. “You guys were there at one time and understand what makes UTC a special place."
Even former U.S. Senator Bob Corker stopped by to offer his encouragement to Wright and the gathering of “Scrappy’s Boys”.
“I’m honored to meet him. It seems like he’s the right guy,” Senator Corker said to hearty applause.
Wright understands the history of UTC’s program and the impact Moore had during his reign.
“I hope to be the second winningest coach of all time here,” Wright said. “I’m never going to be here as long as Scrappy Moore was, so that’s my goal. We’re going to represent what this city was founded on, and that’s grit, hard work and determination. We do that, we’re going to be OK.”
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