Basketball: 20-12 (12-6)
*SEC Tournament Champions; NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
Football: 5-5-1 (3-3)
Pretty much every year in the late 1970s for the Tennessee Vols appeared to have men’s basketball doing better than football with two exceptions. One was 1979-1980, when football went 7-5 and made a bowl while men’s basketball went 18-11 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The other was 1977-1978. That year, the Vols were led by Cliff Wettig, as health reasons led to Ray Mears’s premature retirement and left UT unprepared for its future without him. Meanwhile, Johnny Majors was a first-year coach in football that year. So UT went 4-7 that year in football and 11-16 in basketball.
However, Don DeVoe arrived on Rocky Top the next season. And behind Reggie Johnson, Terry Crosby, Howard Wood and Gary Carter, he had an infrastructure in place to win immediately that Majors didn’t have.
Coming off the most losses in school history, Majors’s team had another rocky start. They began the year 0-2-1 with, and by the end of October they were 1-4-1 and 0-3 in the SEC. A win over the Duke Blue Devils and loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish left them 2-5-1. But the Vols regrouped to win their final three games and finish 5-5-1.
Their last game, a win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, was opening day for men’s basketball. And like football, they would need a strong finish after going 5-5 in non-conference play. But they still struggled.
UT entered February with a 10-10 record and two road games coming up against the No. 13 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and Mississippi State Bulldogs. That’s when they turned things around, shocking the world by upsetting Bama. A loss to MSU left them at 11-11 but with some newfound momentum.
They used that momentum to finish on a six-game winning streak and get to 17-11 and 12-6 in the conference. Then, they continued that hot streak into the SEC Tournament, beating the Auburn Tigers and shocking the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC Championship game.
Following that was an NCAA Tournament win that had UT on a nine-game winning streak and at 20 wins. They lost their last game in the second round to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But such a streak resulted in them winning a championship and advancing in the NCAA Tournament, making them way better than a football team that finished .500 and missed a bowl.