Reggie Cobb ushered in Tennessee Vols success of the 90s

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29: A general view of Neyland Stadium during the South Carolina Gamecocks game against the Tennessee Volunteers on October 29, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29: A general view of Neyland Stadium during the South Carolina Gamecocks game against the Tennessee Volunteers on October 29, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Tennessee football and the NFL lost a great running back and scout in Reggie Cobb. He ushered in the Volunteers most successful period of the modern era.

In 1988, Tennessee football had suffered its first losing season since 1980. It was a major drop for a program that was trying to restore itself in the national picture and appeared to be on the rise under Johnny Majors. There were questions if the program would ever return. But Reggie Cobb made sure that happened.

A running back right out of Knoxville, Cobb, who passed away at age 50 over the weekend, reeled off an epic start to the 1989 season for the Vols. In doing so he ushered in the most successful period the Vols have enjoyed in the modern era.

This was a period that would see the program win four SEC Championships and a national championship over the next decade, finish in the top 25 for 13 straight seasons and go to 15 straight bowl games with 15 straight seasons of 8 wins or more. Guys like Peyton Manning and Al Wilson would become household names. But Reggie Cobb started it all.

Coming off that 5-6 season, the Vols entered the year unranked. Cobb, who played mostly hurt in 1988 and then had been suspended in the offseason due to off-the-field issues, entered the year with many questions. He rushed for 98 yards as the Vols held on in their opener to beat the Colorado State Rams 17-14.

That was an ugly win and kept the questions about the Vols alive. But a week later, while splitting time with Chuck Webb, Cobb helped to show the program was back with 78 rushing yards on the road against the No. 6 ranked UCLA Bruins. UT won that day 24-6, and a week later, they entered the top 25.

At that point, Reggie Cobb would begin a three-game run that got the Vols back for good. His first was in a 28-6 win against the Duke Blue Devils in which he had 109 yards and three touchdowns. But two weeks later was the key game to prove Tennessee football was back.

They were playing the undefeated and No. 4 ranked Auburn Tigers at home. In this game, Andy Kelly entered as a sophomore with very little experience. Webb was still a freshman. So Reggie Cobb carried them to victory. It was the biggest game of his career, as he rushed for 225 yards and, most notably, a 79-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Cobb’s play single-handedly carried the Vols to victory and got them into the top 10. By that point, UT had been ranked for only three weeks. But they would not be unranked again for another five years. That’s how defining this game was.

The next week, Reggie Cobb had another 100-yard game to help the Vols hold onto beat the Georgia Bulldogs 17-14. This proved they were a legitimate team and all of a sudden a national title contender. All the success that would come resulted from the culture Cobb helped build. But he wasn’t supposed to be the one to build it.

Vols football's top 30 players since 1998. light. Related Story

Three years before that, he had committed to a program that appeared to have already arrived. The Vols won the 1985 SEC Championship and finished in the top 5 in Majors’s ninth season, and Cobb joined a stellar recruiting class the following year to continue the tradition. But then they fell off and only went 7-5 in a disappointing 1986 season, one in which Cobb redshirted.

More from Vols Football

A 10-2-1 season in 1987 appeared to show they were back, but then the 1988 season came in which they went 5-6. So in 1989, it was incumbent upon Reggie Cobb to restore them, and his early-season play ushered in a period of dominance Tennessee football had not seen since the days of Gen. Robert Neyland.

Unfortunately, Cobb had some personal issues that resulted in him being dismissed from the team after the Georgia game. A week later, the Vols would suffer their only loss of the season in 1989 to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

But because Cobb carried them to victory over the Tigers and Dawgs, they had done enough to capture a share of the SEC title, finish in the top 5 and go to the Cotton Bowl, which they won against the Arkansas Razorbacks. It ushered in the most successful decade for the Vols since they integrated.

Cobb was able to recover from his issues and enjoy an NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. He became an NFL scout afterward. And in time, he has become well-respected on Rocky Top.

Next. Tee Martin's 10 greatest games played with Vols. dark

His passing is tragic, as a result. When you remember guys who were part of the subsequent elite run under Majors and Phillip Fulmer, don’t forget Cobb’s name. He started it all with his early season play in 1989. And although he couldn’t see it through, the Vols as a program may have gone in a very different direction without his efforts.