Tennessee Football & Basketball Retired Number Criteria

With lots of talk over the last week about how to celebrate the greatest basketball team in school history, some fans and media members have suggested that Wayne Chism have his number retired and hung from the rafters at Thompson Boling-Arena.  Chism certainly became the leader of a truly special team, and holds the record for most games and most wins in a Tennessee uniform.  Both of those records could stand for a long time:  Chism played from day one as a freshman, stayed for four years, and played on teams that won 31 and 28 games.  It's a rare combination that we may not see again.  And aside from that, everybody loves the headband.

But in examining the university's criteria for jersey retirement in basketball, we find that it's an extremely difficult feat to accomplish.  The standards are so high, not only does Chism not qualify...but neither does Chris Lofton.

So we took a look at the football criteria as well...and found that it's even more demanding.

Is Tennessee's policy for jersey retirement too strict?  We take a look at both sets of criteria for football and basketball, the players who currently qualify, and the players we feel like should get another look.  Check out all the info after the jump, and then tell us... 

Basketball Criteria

Tennessee had not retired any jerseys in men's basketball until Bruce Pearl came along.  Pearl, along with Mike Hamilton, made a push to get Bernard King back involved with the program; King was happy to oblige, had his #53 jersey retired in 2007.  His teammate Ernie Grunfeld became the second Vol to receive the honor, with his jersey going up in 2008 (incidentally, Steven Pearl was wearing and continues to wear #22, presumably until he graduates and the number is done for good). 

The full release on the criteria for retiring a number can be found here, from the university's official site.  To receive this honor, a player must achieve TWO of the following:

  • First Team All-American
  • SEC Player of the Year
  • Played on an Olympic Basketball Team
  • NBA All-Star

Basketball Retired Number Candidates

Two former Vols are eligible for jersey retirement under the current criteria:

  • #14 Dale Ellis (1980-83):  SEC POY 82/83, 1st Team AA 83, NBA All-Star 89
  • #20 Allan Houston (1990-93):  Olympics 00, NBA All-Star 00/01

Ellis was also a second team All-American in 1982; Houston had the misfortune of playing in the SEC at the same time as Shaquille O'Neal, so he never won player of the year, but was a third team All-American in 1992 and 1993. Houston is Tennessee's all-time leading scorer. 

I don't think anyone would argue about either of these two guys going up in the rafters - both were in attendance at UT games this season, Houston seems to have reconnected with the university despite the fact that they fired his father, and quite frankly I'm surprised the Vols haven't already retired his number...but I have no doubts we'll see it soon.

The rules also state that five years must pass after a player's last game before their number can be retired.  So Ellis and Houston could go up anytime.  There are only two other Tennessee players who meet even one of the criteria:

  • #35 Ron Slay (2000-03):  SEC POY 03
  • #5 Chris Lofton (2005-08):  SEC POY 07

In addition to their SEC Player of the Year awards, both of these guys were All-Americans...but not first teamers.  Slay was a third team selection his senior year in 2003, and Lofton has two second team and one third team selection on his resume.  But the way the criteria stands now, assuming that neither is going to make an Olympic or NBA All-Star team, both would be out.

Look, I love Ron Slay.  He came to UT as a student the same semester I did, I watched him all four years from the student section, and as such he'll always be my favorite player.  But Slay's case is hurt by a knee injury that caused him to miss most of 2002, and the fact that the teams he played on - which produced two NCAA bids and another to the NIT in the three years he was healthy - have become much less celebrated in light of what Pearl has done.  Ron Slay was a unique and talented individual...but does he deserve to have his jersey retired?  Probably not.

But Chris Lofton?  I'd put his jersey up there in a heartbeat.

Lofton is the second leading scorer in the history of the program, and the best three point shooter in the history of the SEC.  His battle with cancer adds a unique quality to his already amazing career.  And the fact remains that Lofton was the on-the-court face of the resurrection of Tennessee Basketball.  It's not a stretch to suggest that, in the minds of the majority of current fans and perhaps even those who care to read about Tennessee Basketball on this site, Chris Lofton is the best player in the history of the program.

Under the current rules, Lofton's number can't be retired until 2013.  So there's still time for those on the committee to tweak a policy that's only been in existence for three years to begin with.  And I have faith that they'll do the right thing, and make an exception for #5.

But for the moment, understand that if we're talking about retiring Chism's number, a lot of things would have to change in the criteria, or a huge exception would have to be made.  The stronger argument would be for Lofton, if the committee decided to shut him out as the rules currently dictate...we'll see what happens.

Football Criteria

If you thought the basketball policy was tough, check out the football qualifications:

THREE of the following...

  • Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame
  • SEC Player of the Year
  • First Team All-American
  • Heisman Trophy winner
  • Winner of either the Sullivan Award, Draddy Award, or SEC Athlete of the Year (all sports)

....AND, THREE of the following:

  • Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • NFL Offensive or Defensive MVP
  • FIVE Pro Bowl selections
  • Own a major single season or career statistical record

...holy cow, that's impossible.

Football Retired Number Candidates

Of course, it's not impossible if you're Peyton Manning or Reggie White, whose numbers were retired in 2005.  But jersey retirement at Tennessee should be for the very best players in the history of Tennessee, not the very best players in the history of football.

It should be noted that the rules were bent slightly for Doug Atkins (who absolutely deserves to have his number retired); Atkins is a member of both the college and pro hall of fame, played in eight Pro Bowls and was a first team All-American at UT.  The NFL Defensive MVP award wasn't created until 1971, two years after Atkins retired.

The Vols have also retired the jerseys of four players who were killed in action during World War II.

As the criteria currently stands, who else can get in?

The answer, currently, is no one.

Even our most celebrated collegiate players don't meet those standards:  Eric Berry has first team All-American honors and was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, but he'd have to wait for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame to fulfill the third part of the current college requirements, before we even begin to discuss him making five Pro Bowls or going to Canton.

The only player who comes close to the NFL requirements is Jamal Lewis, who won an Offensive MVP award in 2003, and set the single game rushing record (295 yards) in the same year, when he also came within 39 yards of getting Eric Dickerson's record for most yards in a season.  Adrian Peterson broke his single game record in 2007 by one yard, but I'd hope UT's committee would allow some breathing room if it came to that.  But Lewis hasn't been to five Pro Bowls...and is Jamal Lewis an NFL Hall of Famer?

Even if he was, he meets none of the collegiate requirements.  And I'm not saying Jamal should have his number retired...I'm just pointing out that as the criteria currently stands, the doors are locked and no one else is getting in.  You'd need a combination of Eric Berry's sensational college career and Jamal Lewis' sensational pro career just to come close, and would still need the committee to bend the current rules to get in.

Outside of those two, are there others who deserve the honor?  Al Wilson was a first team All-American and played in five Pro Bowls, and could get a pass for being the leader of the National Championship team.  Many will instantly go to the Vols' Heisman silver medalists:  Hank Lauricella, Johnny Majors, and Heath Shuler.  Lauricella was an All-American and is in the college hall of fame, but didn't make it in pro football.  Shuler, of course, didn't either; he did a lot of incredible things here, but like Ron Slay, his career was instantly overshadowed because of what came directly after it:  four years of Peyton Manning, followed by a National Championship. 

But Johnny Majors, like Chris Lofton, deserves to have the rules bent to accomodate him.

Majors has the college requirements:  he won two SEC MVPs, was an All-American, should've won the Heisman Trophy, and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.  But as he also never played in the NFL, he meets none of those criteria.

Numbers were originally retired in 2005, when Phillip Fulmer was still running the show and tensions were much higher between he and Majors.  But being that Johnny excelled as a player and a coach in Knoxville and has done so much for this program, he should be the next one to have his number on display at Neyland Stadium.

The policies for both football and basketball reiterate that having a number retired is the highest honor the university can bestow.  And I agree.  I don't think we should just do it for everybody, and have a dozen retired numbers in every sport. 

But my hope is that the criteria function as guidelines and not hard and fast rules.  Dale Ellis and Allan Houston can go up anytime.  And I think Chris Lofton and Johnny Majors deserve to join them.

As for the best basketball team in school history?  Well, even if we can't retire Wayne's jersey (and if we don't want to hang his headband from the rafters next to Slay's)...at the very least, I'd wager Bruce Pearl is going to get a street named after him sooner than later.

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