Blog Entry

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Posted on: November 3, 2008 3:52 pm

Phil Fulmer called me.

When an SEC head coach calls out of the blue he doesn't want to borrow a few bucks. It was a couple of years ago. The Tennessee coach had called about some mindless thing I'd written in a blog. It was during the seemingly endless run of the program's off-field problems at the time.

I had posted something flippant in a blog which, for me, wasn't surprising. What was surprising was Fulmer calling at that moment (I was in the Atlanta airport), at that time (it was in the middle of summer) to pick a bone.

I had no problem with it. In fact, I wish more coaches would call in person if they have a problem with a story. It can't hurt and keeps the lines of communication open. We hung up that day with whatever problem there was, resolved.

Still, I thought it was odd that a high profile, big-time SEC coach would call me about a blog. I'm no expert on blogs but, to me, you can get away with certain things in a blog that you might not in a regular story. As long as your name is on it, then it's just another way of communicating.

Anyway, it seemed that day that was Fulmer was cultivating a media "friend." Nothing wrong with that. I'm closer to some coaches than others. I wouldn't call any one of the I-A guys "friends". First, they're in a different tax bracket. Second, a guy like me is basically a bug smashed on their windshield.

Our common interest is between the lines. In this business, it's always nice if you can call or text a guy and just gossip. We're not all about ripping.

As we know now, Fulmer didn't have many friends in the media at the end. The only thing easier to beat up before Monday was a piñata.

That was unfair. Fulmer is one of the decent ones. He's not a crook. He's doesn't have a fundamental personality flaw that needs to be addressed by professionals such as one Robert Montgomery Knight. He is a son of the South, a proud Vol and a hell of a coach.

His sin was letting the program get stale. It happens. Everywhere. Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer once said that after 10 years the average NFL coach gets stale no matter what. The message becomes old. The players stop listening. It's time to go.

Phil Fulmer lasted 17 years if you count his 4-0 record in 1992.  He delivered five SEC East titles, two SEC titles and a national championship. As recently as 11 months ago, Tennessee was playing for the SEC title.

Still, things were stale. The popular theory is that the loss of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe contributed to the downfall.  I don't think even Cutcliffe could have made chicken salad out of Jonathan Crompton. That Tennessee -- once the cradle of quarterbacks -- couldn't find someone better Crompton was an indictment of Fulmer's recruiting.

I talked to a big-time offensive coordinator last week who had visited the Tennessee staff in the offseason. He had nothing but good things to say. Believe me, he would have ripped them if it was warranted.  This guy holds nothing back.

Still, things were stale. It was more than irony that the loss that finally got him out was to his old nemesis. The Old Ball Coach, lacking some of his old mojo, punked Fulmer one more time.

 Everything started to change for coaches everywhere at the beginning of this decade. Bob Stoops won a national championship in his second year at Oklahoma. He was followed quickly by Jim Tressel who won in his second season. Urban Meyer did the same thing in 2006.

Maybe Phil should consider himself lucky for getting this far. Fans have little patience, especially when three other SEC coaches have either gone undefeated and/or won national championships since Tennessee's in 1998.

The fifth-winningest active coach in I-A was only third in his own  conference. Patience? There is little left these days for coaches who don't deliver immediately, or enough. Fulmer's departure also makes it four I-A coaches this year who have either resigned or been fired during the season.

Things were stale, maybe, but how many ADs would like a .766 coach? That's why it will take something special for Fulmer to get into coaching right away. He is overqualified for most jobs. His star has dimmed, perhaps, in the SEC. His dignity would prevent him from going to non-BCS level for a job.

Shed no tears. The guy is walking away with at least $6 million from Tennessee. He still has a lot of energy left. I'm thinking he might resurface as an offensive line coach in the NFL. There's a lot less crap to deal with at that level.

Where does Tennessee go from here? First, whoever is hired must know that it's AD Mike Hamilton's neck on the line too. Hamilton got mouthy in Fulmer's final days, basically throwing his coach under the bus. The AD better deliver, big time. That means a coach capable of recruiting his butt off (Tennessee simply doesn't have many players), winning more than 75 percent of his games and, oh yeah, delivering a national championship.

Does that eliminate defensive coordinator John Chavis? He seems to be a popular choice. Mike Leach is going to be mentioned for every opening and then end up on the sidelines again next season for Texas Tech. Hamilton might go the up-and-coming route. Tulsa's Todd Graham and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly have been mentioned.

If it comes to that, I favor Kelly. Michigan dismissed him out of hand because he had once coached at Central Michigan. Bad move. Tennessee shouldn't be limiting itself. That includes at least a courtesy call to Steve Spurrier to see if he is interested.

After the laughing dies down, Spurrier might give Hamilton a couple of names.

Kelly, though, is the no-nonsense type who has won a Division II national championship and been able to succeed at two non-descript mid-majors (Central Michigan and Cincinnati).

Tennessee is a destination job. After being at three schools in six years, Kelly could retire in Knoxville. One other thing: Kelly knows how to develop quarterbacks.

At a program that is in decline but hasn't crumbled, that's a great place to start.

Category: NCAAF

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 8, 2008 4:09 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era


You can find some things about it on the internet, but honestly - nothing I would call solid fact.  Most of my information comes from friends who actually played in the Tri-Cities against Spurrier in all three sports - Most of which at Kingsport's Dobyns-Bennett High School.  Steve wanted to do more than hand the football off wherever he went, but UT at the time was running a single wing offense.  They apparently showed no interest in him, but with hindsight, I'd say things worked out pretty well for him.

Also, anyone still want to back Dave Clawson after today's performance?  Don't blame it on the QB's (no matter how terrible Stephens is) because it's his job to keep that from happening!  He could recruit at U of R and that put the W's up for him.  As an OC in the SEC, he actually had to coach, which he has proven that he is incapable of.  Good riddance.  Now I'm just counting down the minutes until a Keydet upset of Kentucky basketball next Friday. 


Since: Oct 15, 2008
Posted on: November 6, 2008 5:41 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I am with you man. I have been a UT fan all my life. I went to games with my Dad when I was a kid, the whole 9 yards. I know for a fact that Fulmer has had the talent to have had made at minimum 4 or 5 legitamate shots to win the National Title. In the mid 90's I told myself this "If Tennessee could just win 1 National Championship in my lifetime I would be content and happy. When Peyton could not get us there in his 4 years I felt like we were hopeless to accomplish this feat. Thanks to Clint Stoerner (not Fulmer's great coaching ability) the Vols took it all the way for my man John Ward. We did ok the next couple of years but no threat of getting to the Game. Then in the next bit of time with Ainge, we would have to make due of a season or come back the last half of the season to compete for good Bowls Games. I could see things slipping away from Fulmer. Chavez kept getting this top defenses that would give up big yardage in important games and the offense was DEAD. The last 2 years have been pathetic to Vol Fans. We lose every game of significance and lose some that are not significant. The ones we win are pitiful. I am glad to see Phil Fulmer gone. I hope this sends a message to all coaches that "Just because you win a National Championship, doesn't mean you have a job for life".

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: November 5, 2008 9:15 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Lexington Vol: Your comment raises a question; How WAS Spurrier treated by Tennessee coming out of high school - Do you have any specific information? Thanks.

Since: Oct 13, 2007
Posted on: November 4, 2008 8:47 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

First off Hightower started  only 4 games and gained a whopping 161 yards in rushing as a freshman on the U of R football squad. He then started nine games as a sophmore and gained 777 yards. Now his junior year he did start all 11 games and rushed for a respectable 850 yards. His senior year he was a full time starter and was a man among boys. He amassed over 1900 yards in rushing and had a school record of 20 TD's. That must be the year you are talking about that Hightower was the only thing Clawson had. Yes that must be it. You also failed to notice that U of R is ranked #7 in I-AA this year with out Coach Clawson but with the players he recruited. So to validate the point before, Clawson in my opinion does have the goods. It also is pretty ridiculous to say after only 9 games that he is not deserving of an OC spot in the SEC.

Since: Nov 3, 2007
Posted on: November 4, 2008 7:32 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

jb I don't think Spurrier would be interested in the job for the simple fact that after coaching Florida it would be like"been there, done that". He's in his early sixties and I think at South Carolina he has less pressure than at a UT, UF, UGA. He will just golf into the sunset in Columbia.

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: November 4, 2008 6:29 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I hope that Spurrier doesn't come to UT.  I served him once at an event, and he doesn't tip well at all :). 

Since: Oct 3, 2006
Posted on: November 4, 2008 5:13 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I find it interesting that Dodd call the recruiment of crompton and indictment of Fullmers inability to recruit.

Please correct me .. was not crompton in 2005 one of the top QB recruits who was also offered scholly's from Georgia, LSU, Miami Fl, and Michigan before going to Tennesse.

Is it fullmers fault that crompton did not pan out?

Since: Jul 8, 2007
Posted on: November 4, 2008 3:57 pm

Why wouldn't Spurrier consider Tennessee?

Not enough golf courses within 50 miles of Knoxville LMAO :-O

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 2:38 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I kind of like the sound of that.  I think the fit that Spurrier would produce might provide for a pretty quick turn around. 

Since: Aug 25, 2006
Posted on: November 4, 2008 1:48 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

of course have your coordinators.

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