The Volunteers began wearing orange pants in 1977 under coach Johnny Majors. His successor, Phillip Fulmer, discarded the pants upon becoming Major's full-time replacement in 1993. The orange pants were worn three times under Fulmer: in the 1999 homecoming game vs. Memphis, the 2007 SEC Championship game vs. LSU, and the 2008 season opener at UCLA. Lane Kiffin wore the orange pants full-time on the road, except for the 2009 season finale vs. Kentucky, and selected home games.
In 2009, the Volunteers wore black jerseys with orange pants on Halloween night against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
On October 5, 2013, the team debuted its "Smokey Gray" uniforms in an overtime loss to the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium.
After more than a decade of Adidas uniforms and a year of speculation, Tennessee unveiled its new Nike uniforms on July 1, 2015.
The three new Mach Speed uniforms, which are part of a department-wide contract with Nike that was announced in 2014, introduces a taller, sleeker number font and striping that is half-checkerboard—matching the famous end-zone art at Neyland Stadium.
The orange and white colors worn by the football team were selected by Charles Moore, a member of the very first football squad in 1891. They were from the American Daisy which grew on The Hill, the home of most of the classrooms at the university at the time (now housing most of the chemistry and physics programs et al.).
The orange color is distinct to the school, dubbed "UT Orange", and has been offered by The Home Depot for sale as a paint, licensed by the university. Home games at Neyland Stadium have been described as a "sea of Orange" due to the large number of fans wearing the school color; the moniker Big Orange, as in "Go Big Orange!", derives from the usage of UT Orange.
The color is spot color PMS 151 as described by the University.
In addition to the famous orange and white, UT also has had the little-known Smokey Gray color since the 1930s and debuted the color in the October 5, 2013 rivalry game against Georgia in an alternate jersey.
Tennessee first sported the famous checkerboard design in 1964 under Dickey and remained until artificial turf was installed at Neyland Stadium in 1968. They brought the design back in 1989. The idea was inspired by the checkerboard design around the top of historic Ayres Hall.
The checkerboard was bordered in orange from 1989 until natural grass replaced the artificial turf in 1994. The return of natural grass brought with it the return of the green (or grass colored) border that exists today.
Rocky Top is not the official Tennessee fight song (Down the Field is the official fight song), as is widely believed, but is the most popular in use by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. The Band began playing the fight song during the 1970s after it became popular as a Bluegrass tune by the Osborne Brothers. The fight song is widely recognized as one of the most hated by opponents in collegiate sports. The song became one of Tennessee's state songs in 1982.
Smokey is the mascot of the University of Tennessee sports teams, both men's and women's. A Bluetick Coonhound mascot, currently Smokey X, leads the Vols on the field for football games. On game weekends, Smokey is cared for by the members of Alpha Gamma Rho's Alpha Kappa chapter. There is also a costumed mascot that appears at every Vols game, which has won several mascot championships.
Smokey was selected as the mascot for UT after a student poll in 1953. A contest was held by the Pep Club that year; their desire was to select a coon hound that was native to Tennessee. At halftime of the Mississippi State game that season, several hounds were introduced for voting, all lined up on the old cheerleaders' ramp at Neyland, with each dog being introduced over the loudspeaker and the student body cheering for their favorite. The late Rev. Bill Brooks' "Blue Smokey" was the last hound announced and howled loudly when introduced. The students cheered and Smokey threw his head back and barked again. This kept going until the stadium was cheering and applauding and UT had its mascot, Smokey. The most successful dog has been Smokey VIII who saw a record of 91–22, two SEC titles, and 1 National Championship.
Initiated in 1989, the Pregame Showcase is a public lecture series featuring entertaining and informative 45-minute presentations by faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences. Held two hours before kickoff in the University Center Ballroom (Room 213) at every home football game, the Pregame Showcase is free and open to the public. Complimentary refreshments and door prizes are provided. The carefully timed presentations allow fans to enjoy the lecture and still get to the stadium before kickoff.
Head Coach Johnny Majors came up with the idea for the Vol Walk after a 1988 game at Auburn when he saw the historic Tiger Walk take place. Prior to each home game, the Vols will file out of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex, down past the Tennessee Volunteers Wall of Fame, and make their way down Peyton Manning Pass and onto Phillip Fulmer Way. Thousands of fans line the street to shake the players' hands as they walk into Neyland Stadium. Through rain, snow, sleet, or sunshine, the Vol faithful are always out in full force to root on the Vols as they prepare for battle. The fans are always pumped up with Rocky Top played by The Pride of the Southland Band.
The "T" appears in two special places in Vol history and tradition. Coach Doug Dickey added the familiar block letter T onto the side of the helmets in his first year in 1964; a rounded T came in 1968. Johnny Majors modified the famous orange helmet stripe to a thicker stripe in 1977.
The Vols also run through the T. This T is formed by the Pride of the Southland marching band with its base at the entrance to the Tennessee locker room in the north end zone with team personnel holding the state flag and the UT flag, Smokey running in on the field, and the entire UT team storming in to loud cheers and applause from the 100,000-plus Vols fans in Neyland. When Coach Dickey brought this unique and now-famous tradition to UT in 1965, the Vols' locker room was underneath the East stands. The Vols would run through the T and simply turn back to return to their sideline. However, beginning in 1983, the team would make the famous left turn inside the T and run toward their former bench on the east sideline when the locker room was moved from the east sideline to the north end zone. It was announced on January 24, 2010 that the Vols would switch their sideline from the east sideline to the west sideline for all home games from then on. This resulted in the Vols making a right out of the T instead of a left. This change took effect with Tennessee's first home game of the 2010 season against UT-Martin.
The Volunteers (or Vols as it is commonly shortened to) derive that nickname from the State of Tennessee's nickname. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State", a nickname it earned during the War of 1812, in which volunteer soldiers from Tennessee played a prominent role, especially during the Battle of New Orleans.
Around 200 or more boats normally dock outside Neyland Stadium on the Tennessee River before games. The fleet was started by former Tennessee broadcaster George Mooney who docked his boat there first in 1962. UT, the University of Pittsburgh, Baylor University, and the University of Washington are the only schools with their football stadiums built next to major bodies of water.
The Vols' three main rivalries include the Alabama Crimson Tide (Third Saturday in October), Florida Gators, and Vanderbilt Commodores. Tennessee also has a long and important rivalry with Kentucky Wildcats . Since the formation of the SEC Eastern Division in 1992, the Vols have had an emerging rivalry with the Georgia Bulldogs, and they have a small non-conference rivalry with the in-state Memphis Tigers. None of their games have trophies, although Kentucky–Tennessee used to battle over a trophy called the Beer Barrel from 1925 until 1999. From 1985 until 2010, Tennessee held a 26–game winning streak over Kentucky. The streak ended on November 26, 2011 when Kentucky defeated Tennessee 10–7 in Lexington. The Volunteers had important rivalries with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Auburn Tigers, until Georgia Tech left the SEC and realignment forced them to drop Auburn from the schedule.
Despite the heated in-state rivalry with Auburn, former Alabama coach Bear Bryant was more adamant about defeating his rivals to the north, the Tennessee Vols. The series is named the Third Saturday in October, the traditional calendar date on which the game was played. Despite the name, the game was played on the third Saturday just five times between 1995 and 2007. The first game between the two sides was played in 1901 in Birmingham, ending in a 6–6 tie. From 1902 to 1913, Alabama dominated the series, only losing once, and never allowing a touchdown by the Volunteers. Beginning in 1928, the rivalry was first played on its traditional date and began to be a challenge for the Tide as Robert Neyland began challenging Alabama for their perennial spot on top of the conference standings. In the 1950s, Jim Goostree, the head trainer for Alabama, began a tradition as he began handing out cigars following a victory over the Volunteers.
Between 1971–1981, Alabama held an eleven-game winning streak over the Volunteers and, between 1986 and 1994, a nine-game unbeaten streak. However, following Alabama's streak, Tennessee responded with a seven-game winning streak from 1995 to 2001. Alabama has won the last nine meetings from 2007 to 2015. Alabama won the 2015 game 19–14 in Tuscaloosa. The 2015 was the closest game between Alabama and Tennessee since 2009. Alabama is Tennessee's third most-played opponent, after Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Tennessee is Alabama's second-most played opponent after Mississippi State.
The Tigers and Vols first met in 1900 . Both teams were annual rivals from 1956 to 1991. In 1991 the SEC split into two divisions, ending the rivalry. Both teams continue to meet occasionally, with the last meeting being November 9, 2013 (Auburn 55–23 victory). Both teams have also matched up in two SEC Championship Games, the 1997 SEC Championship Game (Tennessee 30–29) and 2004 SEC Championship Game (Auburn 38–28 victory). Both teams will meet again in 2018. Auburn leads the series 28–21–3.
The Bulldogs and Vols first met in 1899, a UT victory in Knoxville. The teams, which have played 46 games through 2016, played sporadically over the next several years before playing 5 straight games from 1907 to 1910, 4 straight from 1922 to 1925, and then putting the rivalry on hiatus for more than 30 years after the 1937 game in Knoxville, a UT victory. When the two played each other in 1968 in Knoxville, the game ended in a tie (only the second tie game after the 1906 game in Athens). The two teams continued to play each other sporadically through the 1970s and '80s, with Georgia winning 4 straight games from 1973 to 1988. The Volunteers won at home against the Bulldogs in 1989, a full 52 years after the '37 game. The 1989 game was the last game between the two teams before the SEC split the conference into two divisions, West and East, with South Carolina and Arkansas entering the conference in 1990, effective the 1991–92 basketball season. From 1992 onwards, the Vols and Bulldogs have played each other every year, with Georgia having a 5–game winning streak through 2014. Tennessee ended Georgia's streak in 2015 with a 38–31 win over the Bulldogs in Knoxville. Tennessee brought more fireworks in the next year, beating the Bulldogs in Georgia by the score of 34-31, coming from behind to win on a hail mary pass as time expired. Tennessee leads the series at 23–21–2, with the largest win coming in 1936 when Tennessee won 46–0 in Athens.
The Gators and Vols first met on the gridiron in 1916, and have competed in the same conference since Florida joined the now-defunct Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1912. However, a true rivalry has developed only relatively recently due to infrequent match-ups in past decades; in the first seventy-six years (1916–1991), the two teams met just twenty-one times. This changed in 1992, when the Southeastern Conference (SEC) expanded to twelve universities and split into two divisions. Florida and Tennessee were both placed in the SEC's Eastern Division, and have met annually on the football field since 1992. The rivalry quickly blossomed in intensity and importance, as both squads were perennial championship contenders throughout the 1990s. The games' national implications diminished in the 2000s, as first Florida and then Tennessee suffered through sub-par seasons. However, the intensity of each meeting still remains one of the highest in college football.
Vanderbilt and Tennessee have played 108 times since 1892; Tennessee has a winning record of 73–30–5 (.699). When the rivalry first started, Vanderbilt dominated by taking 19 of the first 24 with 3 ties (.854). After 1928, UT has dominated the rivalry with numerous win streaks and since then UT has a record of 71–10–2 (.867). The largest margin of victory for Vandy was by 76 points in 1918 at Old Dudley Field in Nashville, 76-0. The largest margin of victory for UT was by 65 points in 1994 at Vanderbilt Stadium, 65–0. The longest winning streak for Vanderbilt is 9 from 1901 to 1913. The longest winning streak for Tennessee is 22 from 1983 to 2004.
Tennessee and Kentucky have played each other 108 times over 114 years with Tennessee winning 75 to 24 wins by Kentucky (.736). Tennessee has won the most games in Lexington with 35 wins to 14 by Kentucky (.702). Tennessee also has more wins than Kentucky in Knoxville with 45 wins to 10 (.787). Tennessee has the most wins in the series at Stoll Field with 19 wins to 11 Kentucky wins (.621). The Series is tied at 3 a piece at Baldwin Park. Tennessee leads the series at Neyland Stadium with 35 wins to 7 Kentucky wins (.792). Tennessee leads the series at Commonwealth Field with 17 wins to 3 Kentucky wins (.850). Like many college football rivalries, the Tennessee-Kentucky game had its own trophy for many years: a wooden beer barrel painted half blue and half orange. The trophy was awarded to the winner of the game every year from 1925 to 1997. The Barrel was introduced in 1925 by a group of former Kentucky students who wanted to create a material sign of supremacy for the rivalry. It was rolled onto the field that year with the words "Ice Water" painted on it to avoid any outcries over a beer keg symbolizing a college rivalry.
The barrel exchange was ended in 1998 after two Kentucky football players died in an alcohol-related crash.
Georgia Tech and Tennessee have played 45 times since 1902; Tennessee has a winning record of 24–17–2. When Georgia Tech was part of the SEC, both teams met very often. When Georgia Tech left the SEC, the annual rivalry still continued until 1987. The two teams have not met since; however, the teams will meet again in 2017 in Atlanta, renewing their rivalry.
Tennessee has had 23 head coaches since it began play during the 1891 season. Robert Neyland is the leader in seasons coached and games won, with 173 victories in 21 seasons (spread out over three stints). John Barnhill has the highest winning percentage of those who have coached more than one game, with .846. James DePree has the lowest winning percentage of those who have coached more than one game, with .306. Of the 23 different head coaches who have led the Volunteers, Neyland, Wyatt, Dickey, Majors, and Fulmer have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
As of November 28, 2015 Tennessee is ranked 10th all-time won-lost records by percentage and eighth by victories. page-68. The all-time record is 819-374-53 (.679). At Neyland Stadium, the Vols have a record of 454–123–17 (.779).
The UT football season records are taken from the official record books of the University Athletic Association. Tennessee is also one of two teams that have never lost more than seven games in a season, the other team being The Ohio State Buckeyes.