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Fitting Finish For Fulmer
Posted: Friday, April 14th, 2006, 8:42 PM
by Beano
• Permalink
It seems strange that we would be having this discussion at all. In the 90ís UT Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmerís future appeared to be Wal-Mart solid. This decade however has seen the program slide to the point that not only are a few vociferous Vol fans calling for his head, countless others are shaking theirs in the affirmative as they listen. How in the name of Rocky Top did it get to this point? This is a man who in what was supposed to be an interim term substitution for an ailing Coach Majors exuded such an effective, ďlets go get em and enjoy it while we doĒ, persona while roaming the sidelines that it created a groundswell which was the impetus for the ouster of arguably the most popular Head Coach in Tennessee sports history.

If this were a perfect world Coach Majors would not have been forced to leave town using a street named in his honor. This world is so imperfect it just might happen again. I cannot reconcile that thought in my mind. I didnít like it when it happened to Coach Majors. I hope Coach Fulmer avoids the same fate. Phillip Fulmer has won 78% of his games. Heís a Tennessee native, former player, and assistant coach. Heís third only to Robert Neyland (21) and Coach Majors (16) in tenure with 13 full seasons at the helm. His teams have played in four of the last nine SEC Championship Games winning two. He blessed us with the only National Championship of most of our lives and most importantly (to me) ended Alabamaís stranglehold that threatened to ruin my entire adolescence and most of my adulthood. If this were a perfect world fate would assure a happy ending. But alas it is not and the program that Coach Fulmer now oversees is closer to K-Mart than Wal-Mart. What must occur for Coach Fulmer to author a fitting ending? Hereís one mans opinion:

The strongest phase of the Fulmer era has been recruiting. NFL rosters attest to the fact. Coach Fulmer believed from the outset that this was the most important aspect of continued success and structured his staff and approach to assure Tennessee could access living rooms across America. At some point however consistency became obsession. The ďwe are familyĒ theme led to leniency and blatant disobedience. Staff stability became staff staleness, and positions were determined more by prep rep than practice and game performance. Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program but when you fail to strike a balance between blue chip and blue collar, player potential and performance, and assistantís recruiting and instructional abilities, the disparity starts to show up more frequently in the right hand column.

Every successful football team must be able to run the football but the pedigree of the current Tennessee offensive staff makes it even more imperative for the Vols. Fulmer and staff has always been of the run first mindset and if there is a plan B it must stand for befuddled. When we canít run, we canít play. In his first nine complete seasons Fulmerís teams averaged 2068 yards rushing, 23.4 rushing TDs and 182 yards/game. In the last four seasons the averages have plummeted to 1896.5 yards rushing (-171.5), 16.5 rushing TDs (-6.9) and 154.7 ypg (-28.1). Although I donít have the numbers handy to prove it I would bet our short yardage success rate has fallen off a cliff as well. Offensive Line Coach Phillip Fulmer would have NEVER allowed this to happen under his watch. Wonder where that guy has been?

Take down the orange flags around the stadium and run up the white ones. The team sure has. If youíve seen a big win in Neyland recently youíre spending too much time watching ESPN Classic. The last time the Vols defeated a Top-10 team at home was in 1999 (Georgia ranked 10th). Since then they have lost six straight by an average score of 31-13. In Fulmerís first 6 seasons he won 73% of his home games versus ranked teams. In the last 7 seasons he wins only 46% of the time. For those keeping score at home thatís less than half against Top-25 teams not Top-10. Some say 107,000 have never been so quiet. The truth is for this entire decade the 8-10,000 wearing the wrong color have been the only ones with anything to cheer about.

Phillip Fulmer must take control of his program. Ultimately itís not David Cutcliffeís responsibility to see that the offense practices hard, pays attention to detail, or that team discipline is demanded, ITíS COACH FULMERS. Itís not the unity councils responsibility to determine if a player is worthy of reinstatement, ITíS COACH FULMERíS. Itís not the media or fan baseí job to assure timely, accurate evaluation of unit and assistant coaches performance, and demand competency, ITíS COACH FULMERíS. Itís not the spirit of General Neylandís job to see that the maxims are carried out rather than just recited ITíS COACH FULMERíS. Itís your program coach. Itís your legacy. Itís your responsibility.

Iíll admit it. As a sports fan Iím an idealist. Iím a sentimental softy. I like happy endings. Of the four UT Head Football Coaches of my memory the happiest ending was a guy who left to go to Florida. Now how sick is that? I for one hope Coach Fulmer finds a way to overcome his present writerís block and author a fitting finish.


I hope that each and every one of you has a safe and sacred Easter. May God bless you in all you do.
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