Sept. 9, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
When it comes to former Tennessee football greats Raleigh and Reggie McKenzie, the best things always come in pairs.
So it's no surprise that in addition to being honored as UT Legends before Saturday's game against Cincinnati, the Knoxville natives also are taking time Friday night for a reunion of sorts at their high school alma mater, Austin-East.
"I'm going to get to Knoxville early enough to see my Austin-East Roadrunners, see if they can bring out a win," Raleigh McKenzie said with a laugh. "They've got a tough game with Alcoa, so we will have to see if they can squeak one out."
Raleigh knows his high school football. The former Vol and Washington Redskins great now coaches on that level in the D.C. suburb of Herndon, Va.
"I settled there after my playing days with the Redskins," Raleigh said. "I'm coaching at Herndon High and teaching elementary school. I'm coaching football, having fun and enjoying a second career."
Reggie McKenzie also is doing quite well in his current occupation. He just happens to be Director of Football Operations for the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who opened their season Thursday night with a 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints.
"I'm involved in trying to help put together the best 53-man roster we can to try and repeat," Reggie said just hours before Thursday's kickoff. "That's what it's all about, to try to win games and get to the championship and win that."
Last year was Reggie's second Super Bowl championship in the Packers front office. The first came in 1996.
"The key is to get all the pieces in place," Reggie said. "You lose some players to free agency and you have to replace them. We'll know tonight (Thursday), at least as a starting point, if we've done a halfway decent job or not."
McKenzie, who is in his 25th year in the NFL and 18th with the Packers' personnel department, appears to have his team primed once again for another title run in TitleTown USA.
NFL Playing Days
Raleigh also was no stranger to Super Bowl success.
During his 16-year NFL playing career, Raleigh claimed two Super Bowl rings as a member of the Redskins famed "Hogs" offensive front. Raleigh played center and guard for 10 seasons in Washington before finishing with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Packers.
"They're still old school around here, man," Raleigh said of Redskins fans. "They still talk about our era with the Hogs and all the way back to Sonny Jurgensen and Charlie Taylor. They don't forget those winning teams. They're big-time fans around here."
Reggie played seven NFL seasons at linebacker with the Los Angeles Raiders, Phoenix Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. After his playing days ended, Reggie returned to Knoxville and joined Phillip Fulmer's 1993 UT coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
"I worked as a GA there and learned a lot about preparing and getting teams ready - all the ins and outs that go on behind the scenes," Reggie said. "I played for so long it was good to see what that other part was like. Coaching is more than just looking at some film and yelling and screaming at players. It goes a little bit beyond that."
In addition to learning under Tennessee defensive coaches Larry Marmie, Lovie Smith, Jacob Burney and John Chavis, Reggie also was involved in laying the foundation for some of the best years in UT football history.
"I was involved in recruiting, which was a new process for me just dealing with all the particulars that go with it," he said. "As a matter of fact, that class was the Peyton Manning recruiting class. I remember meeting his whole family on their recruiting visit."
Raleigh says he didn't try to encourage his son, Raleigh Jr., to follow his footsteps to Tennessee. Yet that's where the younger McKenzie chose to begin his collegiate studies last month.
"Actually, he had a few other choices and Tennessee was in the back of his mind," Raleigh said. "He was concentrating on schools around here but then he surprised me. When he said `Tennessee,' that made ol' Dad happy."
Raleigh's oldest child, Rachel, is in her junior year at Old Dominion, and his youngest son, Malcolm, is a high school sophomore.
Reggie and his wife, June, also have a pair of college-aged kids: Jasmin, a sophomore at Wheaton College outside Chicago, and Mahkayla, a freshman at Duke who's playing club soccer and plans to try out for the varsity in spring. His sons are Reginald - a 6-3½, 244-pound freshman defensive tackle - and Jalen.
Now a weekend of honor, accolade, remembrance and renewal of friendships awaits the 48-year-old twins. The two earned seven varsity football letters during their UT playing days and reserve a special place in their lives for their alma mater.
"When we were approached about this, we thought it would be a cool thing," Reggie said. "Growing up, you saw Tennessee football on the TV or in the newspapers. Then we sold lineups outside the stadium. Then you get to when you're a senior, and you're being recruited to go there.
"Now, we've moved on and made it in the pros - and your dream is to make it at the highest level you can. To do that and then come back and be recognized at the college you attended as a former Vol is special. And then with the fans who remember us, it's all pretty cool."
Raleigh says the best part is because his brother is right alongside him.
"It's always a good feeling to be honored with your brother; that's definitely a major plus," Raleigh said. "And we're both looking forward to just soaking it all in."
With two Super Bowl rings apiece, are there still bragging rights to be had during family get-togethers like this weekend?
"He's still working and I'm done," Raleigh said. "He's got a chance to pass me up. I'm pretty much done with the pro level."
Reggie knows that Raleigh doesn't usually let him off that easy.
"One thing he always says is at least he sweated for his." Reggie laughs and then adds, "I tell him I sweated for mine too, but in a different way."
This weekend for sure they share the spotlight. At Austin-East and UT, it's two for the price of one.
And that's always been the McKenzie way.