Headline: Phil Fulmer will make an average of $3 million through 2014 per the terms of his contract extension.
Question: Would he have taken $2.5 million? Maybe $2.25 million?
The Tennessee coach made $2.05 million last season and while he deserves a raise for getting the Vols to the SEC
title game, a 50 percent bump in this economic and athletic climate seems a bit much. To me, Fulmer's agent Jimmy
Sexton deserves credit for this one.
This was a raise clearly dictated by ego -- not Fulmer's or Sexton's, by the way. Tennessee wanted to pay its coach $3 million
because it can. Everyone else (seemingly) in the SEC is making $3 million, let's show we're big time too.
Sure, the winning percentage (.766, one of the best among active coaches) means something but why such an extravagant raise now? As you'll see by the editorial below that is not sitting well with everyone. The program has continued to underachieve in the eyes of many.
Since the 1998 national championship, Tennessee's average finish in the SEC East is somewhere between second and third place (2.27 to be exact). It has two outright division titles in that span (2001, 2004) and two ties (2003, 2007) but is 0-3 in SEC championship games in that span.
Compare that UT's two biggest rivals in the SEC East: Florida has three outright division titles, two SEC titles and
a national championship since 1998. Georgia has two outright East Division titles and two SEC titles in the last nine years. (UGA won a three-way division title tiebreaker in 2003 but lost the conference title game.)
Given all that, what leverage did Fulmer have for such an extravagant raise? Look, the guy deserves a lot for being
around this long. He is the senior coach in the SEC but it wasn't like NFL or college teams were busting down the
door to get him.
Here's another view from Bob Gilbert, a former AP writer and retired UT news operations director ...
In approving salary packages of $20.95 million for football coach Phil Fulmer and $13.85 million for basketball
coach Bruce Pearl through 2014, the University of Tennessee has thumbed its nose at UT students, faculty, fans and
common sense and decency.
But worse than that, by guaranteeing Fulmer a contract extension every time his team wins eight regular season
games, Vol athletics director Mike Hamilton and president John Petersen have set a new low standard for Tennessee.
It means Tennessee can have 8-6 seasons to infinity and Fulmer will still be the Vols’ head coach. All he has to do
is win 57 percent of his games.
Ironic, isn’t it, that just a few years ago, Fulmer’s staunch supporters were talking about him breaking Gen. Bob
Neyland’s 82.9 career won-lost percentage? But in Neyland’s era, teams played a maximum of 10 regular season games.
Today they play 12, and an eight-win season is mediocre.
Moreover, Fulmer has beaten only 14 of his last 26 SEC foes; Neyland won 79.9 percent of his last 26 SEC games.
That is Tennessee’s new standard – mediocrity – under a president and an athletics director who don’t have a clue,
or even care, about the standard of excellence established by Neyland.
When combined, the salaries for the football and men’s basketball coaches, not counting basketball assistants whose
raises haven’t been announced, will total $5.935 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year. Fulmer will be paid $2.4
million and his assistants another $1.9 million, and Pearl will get $1.6 million.
The increases come at a time when the nation’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Gasoline costs $4 a gallon,
General Motors is on the brink of bankruptcy, Starbucks is closing 600 stores, unemployment is rising, the housing
market has gone into the tank, our banking system is a shambles, the cost of health care is spiraling out of
control, and our military is broken because of a U.S. president who believes an ill-conceived war will save his
What Hamilton and Petersen, with trustees’ approval, have done is fiscally irresponsible, bordering on criminal
malfeasance. They rationalize that athletics should not be held to the same fiscal standards because the athletics
department is self-supporting, but they appear completely ignorant of the fact that UT exists to educate students,
not entertain the public.
The salary hikes for Fulmer and Pearl have triggered a wave of outrage among students whose tuition goes up 6
percent this year and faculty who’ll receive no raises.
Moreover, several academic and research programs of considerable importance to the state, Audiology and Speech
Pathology and the Center for World War II Study, were in danger of being eliminated until a public outcry changed
What is worse, Pearl got his new deal despite being on record as saying he’s happy at Tennessee, wasn’t going to
leave, never dreamed he’s make the money he was already being paid ($1.3 million), and didn’t ask for a raise.
As for Fulmer, no other schools or pro teams are panting for his services, yet the university says his increase is
predicated on market value. What market value? This is the dumbest assertion ever uttered by a UT administrator.
The Petersen-Hamilton rationalize that the coaches’ salaries come from revenue the athletics department generates,
not from tax dollars.
The University of Tennessee, founded in 1794 as Blount College, was designated in 1869 as the state’s federal
land-grant university. And nowhere in that enabling legislation if there any stipulation that the school provide the
citizens of Tennessee with sports entertainment.
Because of reckless spending for a top-heavy roster of administrators, the UT-Knoxville budget is beginning the new
fiscal year $11 million in the red. Meanwhile, the athletics departments are spending millions on stadium upgrades
and other facilities that cater mostly to fat-cat contributors.
UT and its irresponsible leaders have been sucked into what Dr. William Friday, president emeritus of the University
of North Carolina and former chairman of the Knight Commission on college sports reform, calls the athletics “arms
To cope with runaway spending, reformers are calling for a variety of changes in athletics philosophy. Among them:
(1) reducing the length of football and basketball seasons, (2) making freshmen ineligible for varsity competition
so they have a year to acclimate themselves to academic and campus life, (3) and disclosure of how many athletes get
passing grades because of soft courses, degree programs designed to keep athletes eligible, and “friendly faculty.”
At the current rate of increases in spending and charges passed onto the fans, Vol sports ultimately will be beyond
the financial reach of the average fan. Petersen and Hamilton get away with it because the sports media don’t
challenge the use of athletics to entertain the public.
Nothing will change until fans quit buying tickets and succumbing to extortion.