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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 3, 2008 6:15 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

AS a displaced UT fan in Texas I have watched Mike Leach put together a great program in Lubbock, having to recruit against Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

He would scare the hell out of the rest of the SEC. How about Mike Leach?

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 6:12 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Sir ... 

I feel your pain.  I did indeed notice Hightower running roughshod over Alumni Field for four years -- though to be truly fair, he wasn't that much of a factor as a freshman.  And while Clawson may have done "nothing" with the Vol QBs, it's awfully difficult to do anything in a single year; hence my caveat.

As for the feud and the favor ... I was referring more to the fact that Fulmer never made the thing personal, not that he didn't run up the score. 

But I take your points.

And RAH Virginia Mil!



Since: Dec 24, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:59 pm

Tenn. should consider Gary Patterson

Patterson has done a fantastic job at TCU.  Patterson is a great defensive coach and you need defense to win in the SEC.

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:44 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

stays finds

should read

stays, and finds

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:41 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Dodd while I enjoyed the article and it gives a different perspective for all the Fulmer haters on Phil you mentioned that nobody could do anything with Crompton.  The last time I saw Crompton on the field for the Vols Cutcliffe was the OC and Crompton looked poise and in control of the offense. 

Crompton was also the #2 QB coming out of high school behind Clausen so Fulmer's recruiting didnt really slip on his recruitment of him.  Maybe the players aren't being developed properly and that is showing when they come in so talented as a freshman and they are at that same talent level when they leave.

Although I have wanted Fulmer to call it quits since the Florida game I do hope he stays finds his way into the athletic department at UT because he will always have my respect and he has been/is a great ambassador for The University of Tennessee

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:28 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Just to further validate my arguments:

You're absolutely right about the U of R's recent streak.  You failed to notice, however, that Hightower was there all four years, not just last year.  Hightower is Dave Clawson.  Further, with three solid (well at least Crompton and Coleman) QB's on his hands, Clawson has done nothing with them this year.  I'll have to stick to my guns here and say that Clawson is not deserving of an OC spot in the SEC.  He's not playing against VMI anymore.

Second, Spurrier did have at least some to do with Fulmer.  Fulmer couldn't beat him, no matter where Steve was at.  The main point behind my argument was directed to the comment of UT hiring him and why that would never happen.  Fulmer never "returned the favor" because he could never coach a team to return the favor!



Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:09 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era

Personally, I'm a bit sad to see Fulmer go -- not because I am a Florida fan, or anything like that, but because i think he was a decent person and a good coach.  But the tenor of the article is, methinks, correct: it was his time; his program was stagnating.

A couple of small points though: 

First, Richmond may have been 95 percent Tim Hightower last year, but they've been a high-powered D-1AA (okay, okay, FCS) school for several years now.  They are a powerhouse in the division, right up there with Appalachian State, James Madison, Villanova (this year) and Georgia Southern.  Clawson is no flash in the pan, and if he had a couple of years, you'd find out. 

Second, UT's treatment of Spurrier--whether shabby or justified--had nothing to do with Fulmer.  If Spurrier made that grudge personal, that says more about The Ol' Ball Coach than it does about Fulmer.  It does say something that Fulmer did not return the favor though.

Tennessee may not respect Fulmer (though i doubt the veracity of that statement), but it should.  You'll miss him.

Since: Sep 3, 2006
Posted on: November 3, 2008 5:01 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 4:55 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 and continually ran up the score on Fulmer every chance he had.  Remember, you can't spell Citrus without U-T!!

Since: Nov 3, 2008
Posted on: November 3, 2008 4:52 pm

The end of the Phil Fulmer era


First off, as a huge Vol fan myself, I appreciate your sick obsession with UT.  With your obsession, however, comes another one with Phil Fulmer.  As a Tennessean, I can tell you firsthand that this state has been ready for his ouster for years now.  If this wasn't his fault like you claim, then who's was it??  Someone has to be at fault.  Cutcliffe was UT football.  When he was here, we were on top.  When he's gone, he builds historically sub-par teams into ones that could whip UT.  I understand how it is to criticize a buddy, but the facts in this case are just too built up:  Fulmer's time has passed.  He had a chance to save himself this year with the hiring of a new OC, but he botched that too.  Dave Clawson won at U of R because he had a SEC-caliber running back in Tim Hightower.  If you watched that offense, it was 95% Hightower.  I told my friends here in the spring that Clawson would be the ruin of Fulmer.  Well I was right.  Had you done your scouting homework, maybe you would have been too.  And lay off of Crompton.  This kid was a god coming out of HS.  If he actually had a QB coach there to help him develop in his first year as a starter, I'm sure it would be a different story.  I feel no pity for Fulmer, as he was the most overpaid person in a state's education system that already ranks at the bottom of the country.  Surely state money can go somewhere else besides feeding Fulmer's Wendy's addiction, which has taken precedence over time in the film room.

Spurrier hates UT because of the way he was treated by them coming out of high school in Johnson City.  If you were trying to make a joke there, it wasn't even remotely funny.   How fitting is it though that Spurrier put the final nail in Fulmer's coffin.  Never thought I'd see the day a USC team BLOWS OUT UT.  UT will have to go after a proven name - not another Dave Clawson.

Come on Dodd, I love your respect for the SEC (and especially UT), but you have to look past personal ties and tell it like it is.  Cutcliffe was everything to us.  Fulmer was nothing special.  We saw that when Cutcliffe left for Ole Miss and UT took the downturn.  THIS STATE does not respect Fulmer!  Good Riddance and GO VOLS!!! 



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