Rohe Track Era All About Us!

Compiled by Tom Scott 07/28/2013


Denis Flood, 1969-71

I was discharged from the USMC in 1969 and went directly to the University of Tennessee where I tried out (walked on) the track team. It was a total and complete shock to my fragile psyche. I went from carrying bodies in combat to carrying a baton around a track. UT had great runners in all the events and had won the Southeastern Conference Championship continually for years. They were thick with middle distance runners, which was my specialty. Coach Rohe told me that if I performed well in practice and in the meets I could compete in, he would consider me for some type of aid (scholarship). That sounded like a fair deal to me.

I ran for the New York Athletic Club, NYAC, and competed in a few indoor meets, running 49 seconds in the 440, mostly on relays. In the 880, I ran decent: 1:53-1:54. Good times and always placed, but not well enough for a scholarship, which I desperately needed. My GI bill paid only $130.00 per month for nine months, and I had one thousand dollars saved while serving in Vietnam. My father gave me one thousand dollars when I left home, but I vowed I wouldn’t ask him for more money. There were three kids younger than me in the family who need help for school, etc. I was now an adult and my life was in my hands. The track workouts were so difficult at Tennessee that I could hardly walk near the end of a typical practice week. I had been forewarned about his workouts. Coach was always there watching who could finish the workouts and who couldn’t. Coach Rohe came from a football mentality, and it was his Bear Bryant approach to training; you worked out until you finished, or passed out, whichever came first. And this is not an exaggeration, not by a long shot. By today’s standards, this approach seems absurd. But that’s the way it was back in the day, and Coach Rohe was simply the most successful coach in the Southeastern Conference. He was the Bear Bryant of Track and Field. No one questioned his methods.

By spring quarter, my money had run out. Coach Rohe got me a job as waiter on the training table, and I would be paid with free meals. It was perfect. I had been on mess duty in the Marines and didn’t mind serving tables or washing dishes (which is what we did). What I did mind were spoiled athletes snapping their fingers and telling me to bring them more ice tea or dessert. It just rubbed me the wrong way. One night, long after everyone had gone, I was on my hands and knees scraping butter off floors and cleaning the tables. I decided to quit the training table job. In a fit of false pride, I told Coach Rohe that I had served our country in Vietnam and had medals from the President of the United States. Sports or no sports, these people should be waiting on me. He listened patiently and said he understood. He got me a job at the university motor pool washing cars, and that was fine with me. Somehow I could still eat on the training table—and not have to wear a white coat and eat after everyone was finished.

My track running was going well in the spring. My times had come down significantly in the 880, and I was running under 1:50 constantly. My time in the 440 had dropped to mid 47s—on relays. I never ran an open quarter. I competed in the big East Coast meets, MLK Games, Penn, Quantico relays, etc., and was doing well. But, still no word on scholarship. Coach was pleased with my times, and said so, but we never talked about future aid. I was afraid to bring up the subject for fear of what he might say. One day at practice, I overheard some of the sprinters talking about how UT might get this great sprinter, but as there were no scholarships left, he wasn’t coming. I was devastated, certain my ship had passed me by.

One day after practice, Coach Rohe told me to come to his office. It was late in the day, and the track secretary was gone. We were all alone. At first, he said nothing. This could be an ass chewing, I thought. The Kent State shooting had recently taken place [May 4, 1970], and our own campus was in near lockdown. I, along with others, wore some type of “Strike Now” t-shirt to practice one day, and he went crazy, making us take them off. Coach had admonished me personally for wearing the shirt, saying I was older and should have known better. As we sat there in silence, I thought he still might be pissed off about the shirt. He opened a folder and rifled through some papers, and then said, “I’m offering you a full athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee, out-of-state tuition, room, meals, books, and tickets to home football games. Any tutor you need for schoolwork will be available to you at no cost.” He told me to take the papers up to my dorm room and read through the contracts. I wanted to sign them right away, afraid he might change his mind in the morning. The coach had kept his word. He was a man of honor. “What a Day.” Even after all these years, I’m given to a wave of emotion as I recall these events.