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: Jan 3, 2007
Posted on: November 4, 2008 1:23 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Yeah. I'll miss Fat Phil

- He broke off the blade of the knife he used to stab Johnny Majors in the back and stuck it up the outgoing coaches.. well..   you get the picture 
- Fulmer has a history of tolerating thugs and outright criminals on his teams. Fulmer Cup is called the Fulmer cup for a reason.
- Fulmer helped Alabama put themselves on probabtion, but always managed to slip away from any NCAA tarnish of his own.  Checks and money to Tee Martin, anybody?  Academic scandals? Fulmer FTW!  yayyyy Teflon Phil!
- He never was able to win without Dennis Cutcliffe. His own shortcomings as a coach were nicely propped up by his assistants, and when they left for better gigs he couldn't overcome his own gravitational field, much less find competent replacements

I won't miss you a bit, Phil.  Actually I am laughing happily right now and having some Halloween Candy.  Wait!  You ate it all already!   Karma is a beyatch, aint it?

Since: Mar 29, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 1:12 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I have been against Phillip Fulmer since he started at Tennessee. His demeanor and comments have made me hate Tennessee more than any other team the mighty Gators play. However, I will really miss seeing that guy on the sidelines. With Tennessee losing the way they are right now, I wish he would stay for twenty more years. In all seriousness, I think the decision is unfair and that whoever gets Fulmer will get a terrific football coach. Football would not be the same without the guy.

Since: Nov 29, 2006
Posted on: November 4, 2008 12:43 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Penn State passed stale about a decade ago. They are fossils. This current, and very, minor 2008 blip on the national radar is in no manner an excuse for the decomposition that has transpired under an octogenarian who should have been gone twenty seasons earlier. Penn State has been plowed under like November corn since moving to the Big (two) Ten. Their cumulative W-L record against Michigan and Ohio State is evidence that they are well past stale. Penn State ceased being relevant in the national picture many years ago. The locals in State College had better hope they don't go to the BCS title game, as it won't make any difference who they play, and the Big (two) Ten would suffer yet another humiliating beat down. They will get manhandled by anybody they play outside of the Big (two) Ten. They have beaten nobody worthwhile. Florida would crush them by thirty five or more. Texas Tech could name whatever score they wished. The Sooner Schooner would need new wheels after playing PSU, and Crimson Tide would roll over them like a tidal wave.

Since: Feb 8, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 12:36 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I would not consider any undefeated team stale. Regardless of Joe Pa's age or any other factors you are thinking of; the fact is that they are succeeding. At the end of the day that is all you can truly measure these coaches from in the general scope.

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 12:29 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

You should check your own grammar and syntax. 

Check out UT's winning percentage historically before Fulmer - I guarantee you we were winning over 60% of our games.  Fulmer did not make this program.  Check out his winning percentage against Top 25 teams since 2000, and especially against Top 25 SEC teams since 2000. 

Football is a big-time idol here, and we have one of the largest stadiums and one of the largest and most loyal fanbases.  His resignation was well overdue.  This is a business, and he wasn't performing up to the standards.  He shouldn't be held higher than the program.  More than half the fans I know were tired of him and tired of watching us play.  We desperately needed to have a change.

Most people could only dream of having such a long tenure and making millions like Fulmer did.  I think he got fat and tired and happy and the fans were basically the ones getting screwed emotionally and financially when he got an extension last year for basically being average.  The cost of ticket prices and concessions were raised to basically pay a guy on the downside of his career.  You can't compare his salary to Saban and Meyer because they have been more successful recently and are in their primes. 

UT was becoming more like South Carolina and Kentucky than Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn.  A change was absolutely necessary.

Since: Sep 23, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 12:12 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era


What is even more how you don't even respond to the threads on your lame blog.  You just want to post some story and not even check the blog.  Fulmer probably called you because of that reason.  I think it is lame that you are taking up for that lame gorilla that gave excuses, blamed refs for penalties, and the list goes on.  The Tennessee fans began to lose respect for him a long time ago...and the other SEC teams...come on man...that was a completely pathetic story that you just wrote.

Since: Sep 23, 2008
Posted on: November 4, 2008 12:07 am

The end of the Phil Fulmer era


One of the good guys?  You are stupid...this guy is one of the most hated coaches in the SEC...especially after he snitched on Alabama for absolutely no reason....he is taking his payback right now.

Since: Dec 4, 2007
Posted on: November 3, 2008 10:49 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

There goes Dodd again...

Decent coach?  One of the good guys?  He ran a crooked program that was constantly involved in academic and criminal acts by players that he allowed to run free.  Good riddance!

Since: Dec 31, 2007
Posted on: November 3, 2008 10:37 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

It should have never happened this way.  Coach Fulmer backed himself into the corner and had no exit strategy.  I am old enough to know Coach Doug Dickey, Coach Majors, and Coach Fulmer as the coaches I hated most as a Vandy fan, nevertheless they deserved the utmost respect.  Coach Fulmer is a class act.  He will be missed and after a time will get his due as one of Tennessee's all-time great coaches.  I wished it had worked out differently, nevertheless as I wrote in my Poll, "When Does Fulmer Get Fired", The writing was on the wall.  Anyone who saw the performance by the Vols Saturday nightnight against South Carolina would have agreed with what I wrote then, "he should be fired in the morning paper.  Tennessee is just plain inept.  I have never seen them look this bad ever."

It's the end of an era and my guess is whoever comes in better have an exit strategy.  Shotgun Weddings don't end well, better have a prenup.  

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 10:30 pm

To the Whine & Cheese Club

This is something for the joyful ones who are happy with today's outcome.

Did you know? That UT's Defense, after 9 games, at 3-6 is ranked 11th in the country? (Have you noticed the UF offensive performance since then btw?)

Has it dawned on you that four of those losses were against very good teams (UGA, UF, USC, and Alabama)?

Has it occured to you that the team has given away two games absolutely (UCLA, AUBURN) via turnovers and two more losses were closely related to turnovers (USC and UF)? UT could *easily* be 5-4 right now and reasonably could be 6-3 or even 7-2 if the turnovers are eliminated.

Why bring that up? Has it occured to you that players, not coaches, are the ones responsible for turnovers? Whomever you are dreaming of to come in here to coach won't when either if the PLAYERS continue to turn the ball over.

If UT had NOT turned the ball over in UCLA and Auburn they are 5-4, one lucky game goes there way instead of against and they are 6-3 and still in the hunt for an SEC Championship and you same minions are happy and chatting about the possibilities.

By the way, I was at UT in '92 when Johnny got the shaft. I thought it was wrong then and I still think it was dirty. Was he supposed to block and tackle to win games for his players? Because of that, I have never been able to fully embrace Phil Fulmer as coach. The '98 Championship is still bitter-sweet to me. I don't support Fulmer 100% like a lot of the folks do, but I don't think he is being treated right here. HE SET THE STANDARD by which people are claiming he is now not meeting.

Also, I remind you (who say he can't recruit) that there were more UT players being scouted at the Bama game then Alabama players. Should they win with that talent? Yes. Has he lost the recruiting edge? Nope. Don't forget that these are basically KIDS in college, taking classes, who have had to learn a new OC's system to boot. We couldn't give this new system at least one complete season? At least? Do you really expect 19-20-21 year olds to grasp a new OC system in such a short period of time and to execute it well? A system they weren't particularly recruited to perform in to begin with? Did you really think we wouldn't miss a step when Cutcliffe left? Do you not realize that the SEC is FULL OF TALENT and that sometimes you are going to lose several games against talented teams?

By the way. Forget the tale of two Fulmers b.s. Since 1997 there have been 11 SEC Championship Games. UT has been in FIVE of them, including the last one numb-nutts.

This is a mistake. Welcome to Nebraska idiots.

Nebraska is on its 3rd coach since the beginning of the 1998 season, which marks the start of the post-Osborne era. That can't happen at UT right? Can we have three head coaches in a ten year period UT? I guess we will find out. We now know it will be at least one. One down and two to go as they say.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or