By Tom Mattingly
Procuring a post-game comment from opposing coaches at Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena was always an exciting pastime.
All kinds of things happened under the stadium’s south end or down a distant corridor under the northeast side of TBA that have never made the light of day.
Opposing coaches and fan bases are fascinating people.
When Kentucky came to TBA, there were times the entire population of Hazard or Maysville might try to beat a path to the dressing room area. Many of them made it in. Many more griped about being left out.
There was always a great deal of fun there, even if the guys around Rick Pitino wearing Armani suits or the ones wearing blue blazers with “UK” emblazoned on the breast pocket would look at outsiders suspiciously.
When John Brady was coaching hoops at LSU, he once spent a great deal of time post-game arguing with a writer from Tiger Rag about something written in the publication that didn’t meet Brady’s exacting standards. Never mind about the game. The game just played was secondary to whatever they were arguing about.
A Mississippi State player’s mother once got by security at the dressing room door to complain that her son didn’t make it into the game. Rick Stansbury explained patiently he had been hurt and hadn’t practiced, but that didn’t calm things down at all.
Stansbury seemed more impressed that the Bulldogs had won. The mother’s rant didn’t particularly dazzle him, and he made that fact known to anyone who would listen.
South Carolina’s Eddie Fogler once sat down in the corridor, back against wall, berating himself for an ill-timed technical that cost the Gamecocks the game. “Dumb, Eddie, dumb,” he said, over and over. Once he got over that fit of pique, he did his interview as if it had never happened.
When Richard Williams was the head coach at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs felt victimized at TBA by a foul call in the final moments and ended up losing. State announcer Jack Cristil asked Williams about it on the post-game show. Somehow one question wasn’t enough, and the foul call dominated the show.
On his post-game show in 1996 after the Bulldogs had lost to Tennessee, Georgia head coach Jim Donnan once berated loyalist Loran Smith for having dinner with Archie Manning the night before the game, suggesting he might have spilled the beans on the Bulldog game plan.
That colloquy happened during commercial breaks of Donnan’s show. When the lights went on and the two were live on the air, things were all hunky-dory.
During the commercial breaks, however, things were different. It was no place for faint hearts.
Dennis Franchione was in the interview room in 2002 after the Tide had dismantled the Vols, 34-14. While there was tumult in the dressing room next door (with Franchione urging the assembled media to ignore some salty language therein), “Coach Fran” looked like the Maytag repairman, the loneliest man in Neyland Stadium. That was likely because he was headed to supposedly greener pastures to coach the Texas A&M Aggies.
That brought back memories of Bear Bryant leaving College Station to go to Tuscaloosa. “Coach Fran” was going the other way.
After the 1990 Cotton Bowl, head coach Ken Hatfield was holding court in the media room after Tennessee had dispatched Arkansas 31-27. Hatfield was extolling all things Arkansas in nearly reverential tones. A long and glorious relationship seemed in the offing.
As time passed, nothing could have been further from the truth. Two or three days later, news reports indicated that Hatfield was leaving Fayetteville, Ark., on his way to Clemson, S.C.
When Syracuse came to TBA in the Allan Houston days, Jim Boeheim sought out Ray Mears at Mears’ seat location near the entrance to the visitors’ dressing area.
There was immediate conversation between the two coaches, who had competed fiercely in the first round of the 1977 NCAA Tournament in Boeheim’s rookie season and what turned out to be Mears’s finale as head coach at Tennessee.
No one present except the two coaches knew exactly what was said, but there appeared to be great emotion, maybe a tear or two involved. During the time Ray attended Tennessee games, opposing coaches took great pains to talk with Ray on their way off the court, showing great respect and deference.
There are not quite as many stories near the visitor’s dressing room as there were in the “Naked City” television series, but the stories you can tell are pretty good.