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Jerry Glanville on racing, Saban ... and falling rungs below the dog

By Jeff Birchfield • Aug 18, 2019 at 8:00 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Jerry Glanville is best known for his stints as an NFL coach, particularly with the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Oilers.

The 77-year-old who now lives in Knoxville also had a 15-year career as a race car driver, which included competing in the first NASCAR truck series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Glanville qualified 14th and finished 22nd in that race.

On hand to watch Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Glanville talked about his racing and football careers, including his local ties with Kingsport’s Bobby Dodd and coaching against East Tennessee State.

Since we are at the track, what are your best racing memories?

“Obviously, competing in the first truck race at Bristol. The NASCAR people were always great to me, like a brotherhood. I raced 15 years and in 15 years, you see a lot of tracks, meet a lot of people. We had a couple of bad wrecks, but other than that enjoyed every moment.”

Can you tell us about your relationship with coach/car owner Joe Gibbs both in football and racing?

“It was kind of funny. His son wanted to drive the truck series and of all things, I coached his son (J.D.) for the truck series. You can’t make that up. It was like a movie. J.D. was a great person who passed away a year ago.”

You’re best known for coaching the Falcons and calling the NFL the “No Fun League.” Any thoughts?

“They run that clip every year. I would love to have a dollar every time they’ve run that. Unfortunately, there are no residual payments with that one.”

The Falcons drafted Brett Favre and traded him to the Packers. What do you recall about that?

“A lot of people thought he would go the first round and I didn’t think he would. We needed a wide receiver. We took a receiver from Colorado (Mike Pritchard) who led the league in catches as a rookie. Brett was still there in the second round. He’d had some physical problems with injuries, so some teams had him earmarked, but he proved everybody wrong.

“I wasn’t in on the decision (to trade him). In my contract, I had nothing to do with trades and little at times with the draft. You learn a lesson. One year, we had the best secondary in football and three of them left through free agency. I had one guy coming back, Scott Case. So who do we draft? We draft an offensive tackle who weighed 350 pounds.

“That’s not who a coach would draft. We had a 350-pound tackle, but nobody to cover anybody. They asked me what the tackle needed to do to be a great one. I said, ‘Two words: Stop eating.’ He never did and ate himself out of the league by going over 400 pounds.”

What’s the best story about the most famous player you ever coached, Deion Sanders?

“People didn’t realize how much effort Deion gave because they just saw him game day. In practice, I can’t tell you if any of the receivers ever caught a ball when he was covering them. He never would let them catch it in practice, let alone a game. That’s how much he competed.

“People would ask me how I could stand him and the way he talked. He never said a word in practice or the locker room. He scored touchdowns and people would say, ‘You have to hate Deion. Every time he scores, he dances.’ I’m like, ‘I hope he dances six times a game. I don’t hate anything about it.’ ”

You are still coaching, even last year in the Canadian league with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. What is it about teaching the game that you like so much?

“I was a high school coach and not many high school coaches make it to the NFL. When they had the strike, we were beating everybody. People were asking why our team was so good and I explained that it was because I was a high school coach and in high school, there is no draft. Whoever you got, you have to make pretty good.

“They were worried we were going to win the Super Bowl with the strike team. I believe I would have had a Super Bowl ring with a big asterisk. Before they ended the strike, no one could play with us.”

A couple of well-known coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, were your assistants in Houston. Are those guys as much alike as everyone says?

“People always ask me which was the best guy. Those guys have great work ethics, and we took them that way. One time Nick wanted to go home when we were in Houston. I said, ‘What do you mean you need to go home and take medicine? I will let you bring your medicine and you can take it here.’ I never let him go home. When his assistants at Alabama see me, they tell me, ‘We hate your guts. Because of you, we never go home.’

“I had a nickname for Belichick. He was in charge of bringing the medical report every week. He would be like (imitating Belichick’s voice), ‘The tight end’s ankle, the doctor said it’s the worst ankle he’s ever seen, he could be done for the year.’ The next week, ‘The fullback, it’s the worst sprain he’s ever seen, he could be done.’ I told him, ‘Don’t even talk to that doctor, find another one.’ So I nicknamed him Dr. Gloom.”

What is your connection with Kingsport and legendary Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd?

“I was coaching at Western Kentucky. We had everybody coming back and I didn’t think anyone could beat us, so I really wasn’t interested in another job. Coach Dodd (then the Georgia Tech athletic director) told me to come visit Atlanta and they would fly me back home.

“I was making $4,800 a year at Western Kentucky. I was interviewing for the Georgia Tech job. Coach Dodd said, ‘If you come here Jerry, we’re going to pay you $10,000.’ I thought I hit the lottery. I was like, ‘Goodbye, Western. Hello, Georgia Tech.’ ”

When at Western Kentucky as defensive coordinator, what are the memories of coaching against ETSU?

“We were big rivals with ETSU and I tell you the OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) in the late ’60s could play football. Eastern Kentucky was good as was East Tennessee, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay. We all had good football players.

“When I went to Georgia Tech, the head coach Bud Carson asked how the players compared to Western Kentucky. I told him, ‘We don’t have a player here that could play for Western Kentucky.’ My job for six years was to hit the road and recruit better players. I lived in a car, a Buick Riviera, going to look at kids all over Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio.”

What brought you to Knoxville where you’ve lived for a while now?

“My son was living in Knoxville and he called us up and said they were having a baby. My wife was like, ‘We ain’t leaving that grandson.’ I could leave Knoxville, but I would be leaving alone. I coached last year in Canada and my wife didn’t miss me. Next year, I will be coaching in Tampa Bay in the XFL and it’s a good chance she won’t come visit me.

“Somebody asked me if I fell down one rung on the ladder when the grandson came along. ‘I fell down two rungs when she got a dog. I fell to the bottom when the grandson came along.’

“I love coaching pro ball and I don’t know if I ever had as much fun coaching as last year in Canada. Now that Vince McMahon is signing my checks, I might have to practice my wrestling moves.”

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