It looks now as if weâ’ve been Fulmered
by Barry Henderson
A couple of surprises this past weekend have punctuated the disappointment a lot of UT football fans have felt throughout this up-and-down season, both with the Volsâ’ performances and Coach Phillip Fulmer, whose reputation among the faithful has never been in more jeopardy.
The first surprise was the incredible four-overtime win over Kentucky. Decided by a final score of 52-50, the game could have gone either way several times. To come away with a victory and a shot at the Southeastern Conference title was a stroke of singular luck for UT.
The second surprise was the announcement by Athletic Director Mike Hamilton that winning the SEC East championship meant that Fulmerâ’s contract would be extended and that he would be entitled to a negotiated pay raise.
The timing of that announcement was downright shocking to skeptics of Fulmerâ’s entitlement to extended longevity and more money.
Better that his contract extension were to ride on the SEC title game in Atlanta this weekend, when the Vols will meet Western Division champion and former No. 1-ranked LSU. My guess is that UT has about a 40 percent chance of coming away with the conference crown, because LSUâ’s dominance of the early season has been slipping as its coach, Les Miles, has been under open consideration for the vacant coaching job at Michigan, where he was a successful assistant.
The odds for a UT title would be much better, however, if the Vols had not been so painfully inconsistent in every aspect of the game so far this year. They have had a couple of outings where everything seemed to come together, as it did at at home against Georgia and Arkansas, when they looked like world-beaters.
On other occasions, such as at Florida and at Alabama, they didnâ’t appear to belong on the same field with their opponents, who walked all over them.
The time to talk about paying Fulmer more than he is already getting would be after his team wins the SEC and performs up to its obvious potential in the Sugar Bowl, not before those things occur.
Taking him and his athletic director at their word, Houston Nutt walked away from his job as Arkansas coach after his teamâ’s biggest win, its upset of LSU, and a solid, if unspectacular season, for the good of the school and the state, where his popularity has waned.
No one really expects Fulmer to make a similar gesture, but if the Vols lose this chance for an SEC title and fail to show in a subsequent bowl game, such a resignation would be understood.
He has a quality team this year and two of the best coordinators in football, John Chavis on defense and David Cutcliffe on offense. He has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Erik Ainge and has fielded a deep corps of wide receivers who are mostly young but have been improving all year.
His running backs have shown flashes of brilliance behind an offensive line that has provided good quarterback protection but has been wildly inconsistent in blocking for the running game. The line blew away an excellent Georgia defensive line, but looked mediocre against Alabama, Florida, and Vanderbilt and made a lousy impression in the second half against Kentucky. The defensive backfield has terrific athletes, but has also been morbidly inconsistent. The linebacking crew has been solid pretty much all year, but that has been, along with Aingeâ’s skills, the highlight of the season so far.
Fulmer wonâ’t have Ainge back next year, nor will he have a quarterback who has started a regular-season game. His underclassmen at running back look iffy. His recruiting has been spotty in recent years. Give him a raise? Not much of one before next seasonâ’s results are glowingly obvious.
Pat Summit deserves more in the way of compensation, regardless of the final outcome of this womenâ’s basketball season. So, probably, does Bruce Pearl, the menâ’s coach who has lifted that program from the doldrums and promises to provide more in the way of success.
But Fulmer, who a lot of people think has been hanging on to his job too long already? Wait and see.
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