The story of George Kelley’s one season as Tennessee’s head coach in 1901

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George Kelley served as Tennessee’s head coach for one season in 1901. He came to Tennessee following a playing career at Princeton.

The Vols finished the 1901 campaign with a 3-3-2 record.

Tennessee kicked off the 1901 season on Oct. 12 against King College at Waite Field in Knoxville. The Vols defeated King, 8-0.

The game was played in a rain storm and on a muddy field.

Several days ahead of Tennessee’s season-opening game, Kelley suffered a severe ankle injury while kicking a ball. He was able to be driven to the Vols’ game against King. With inclement weather conditions, Kelley contracted rheumatism in his right leg while being wet.

He would be bed-ridden throughout the season and was not able to devote his full attention to the team.

Players C.E. Hollopeter and Nash Buckingham served as acting coaches in Kelley’s absence throughout the 1901 campaign.

1901 Tennessee football and head coach George Kelley. (Photo provided by the University of Tennessee, 1902 The Volunteer)

The final game of the 1901 season took place on Nov. 28 against Alabama in Birmingham.

Tennessee and Alabama played to a 6-6 tie on Thanksgiving day at West End Park in Birmingham.

The reason for the game being tied was due to an offsides penalty against Alabama within the first ten minutes of the second half.

The penalty occurred ten yards from the goal line. Alabama players contested the penalty and that is when two things occurred in ending the game early. First, spectators came onto the playing field and circled both teams, preventing any further play. Secondly, as the protest continued, darkness came which did not allow for the two teams to finish the contest with daylight gone.

The 1901 season also featured Tennessee hosting Clemson and Tigers’ head coach John Heisman. Tennessee and Clemson played to a 6-6 tie at Waite Field.

Following an end of the season team banquet on Nov. 30, 1901, Kelley left Knoxville on Dec. 2 for Washington D.C and would not return as Tennessee’s head coach.

He taught history at Central High School in Washington D.C. for six years and earned his law degree in 1905.

Kelley died on Jan. 12, 1948.