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: Oct 19, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 7:43 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

I'm sorry, but I respectfully agree with you lexingtonvol. As a 2005 graduate of UT, a lifelong Tennessean, and Tennessee football fan since birth, I'll have to say that the entire state of TN does not see it your way. Phil Fulmer was Tennessee football, it's a crying shame that the few fans (like yourself) scold him like you do. I've seen all the numbers, read all the message boards, and sat through every UT home game since 1996....When the country thinks of UT football, they think of two people, Phil Fulmer and Peyton Manning. Who recruited Manning...oh yeah, Fulmer. With this said and as a fellow UT fan, give the man some dignity, with football aside, the man does wonders for children's charities, the university, his family, and the great state of Tennessee. Let's not become what Alabama fans have become (comparing every coach to the Bear) and support our coaches and players. Thank you Coach Fulmer and Go Vols!

Since: Feb 19, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:55 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Yes... they just havent played anyone....

Enjoy your month and a half off before the NC

Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:49 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

There is a big difference in Johnson City and Knoxville though. Although the cities are only about two hours apart, northeast Tennessee is often grouped with southwestern Virginia. I am from Knoxville, where UT is huge, but now live in Johnson City. Saturdays in the fall up here don't sport cars driving around with orange flags, and it is relatively difficult to find UT apparel.

Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:46 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

As a native of Knoxville, it has been hard to watch the Vols the last few years. Even last year, we just kind of slipped into the SEC championship game. Phil is a great coach, and I hate to see him go, but the facts are that Phil just can't keep up with guys like Saban, Meyer and and Miles. The SEC is changing, and Tennessee has to do something about it. Mark my words though, Fulmer will win wherever he goes. All he needs is a new audience. Most teams would be lucky to have him.

Since: Nov 2, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:39 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Fulmers downfall was the hiring of Division 2 Coaches to run the offense.  He has never been able to Coach Low to Mid Level Talent "up".

This year is a prime example and he was exposed. I think he underachieved throughout his tenure --never getting the most of the talent he had.

I work in So Cal close to USC and Know for a fact that with Pete Carrolls' struggle with the administration aT So Cal he would Love the Facility Upgrades, The Administrative support and the Fans support of Coaching in The SEC and Tennessee  as Opposed to the PAC 10.. Carroll is very competitive and has accomplished all at USC and I was told he would like a challenge of taking Tennessee back to The Top in The SEC.

Since: Aug 12, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:33 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Spurrier was an all-state three sport athlete out of Johnson City's Science Hill High School.  UT gave him no attention during the recruiting process.  Spurrier never forgave UT

That's interesting, I wasn't aware of UT's recruitment, or lack of recruitment of Spurrier.  Having grown up in Asheville I remember well Spurrier at Science Hill because they played Lee Edwards High at least a couple of times during his high school career.  I read a lot about him in the Asheville paper. He's a few years older than me but what I remember is the Tennessee fans I knew hated him when he was at Florida for not going to Tennessee.  Go figure.

Whatever the case, I have a friend who went to Science Hill with Spurrier and he said Spurrier was a real jerk in high school. 


Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:28 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Fulmer's five year running winning percentage is about 62%, Paterno's is about 72%.  Stale or not, Paterno's performance over the past five years has been significantly better.  Johnny Majors was fired with a five yr avg over 70% and Bill Battle was fired at UT with a five yr avg of about 66%.  Most Vol fans appreciate what Coach Fulmer has done for the program, but it's time for a change.    You have to look back to 1984 to find a five year winning percentage at Tennessee that's lower than current.  Fulmer's overall percentage is misleading - the program has clearly slipped from the 90's and has shown no indication of any sustainable rebound.

Thanks to Phil for the job that he's done, but the ongoing performance on the field necessitated a change.   


Since: Oct 29, 2007
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:25 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

He is also originally from Johnson City, Tennessee.  Why not?  He has more roots there than S.Car. or Florida.

Since: Nov 2, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:24 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era


Rocky flops indeed.

Since: Sep 6, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:15 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Why wouldn't Spurrier consider Tennessee? Cause the Jerk grew up in Johnson City,Tennessee and hated the Vols, Went to Florida to play , to beat the Vols, coached at Florida and beat the Vols, and coached at S.Carolina and just beat the Vols. I'm a U.T Fan to the core, and in Pro football I'm a Redskin Fan. When he was at Washington I could hardly care for THEM, It's like Your Mom marrying your worst Enemy. You can't even give her a goodnight kiss, cause you know where thos lips have been

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