Knoxville in 2008: Sports Stuff

Fulmer Out, Kiffin In

Firing and hiring a football coach, especially in the South, is never an easy process. But the saga of University of Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer’s dismissal took a surprising number of twists along the way. When Fulmer announced his “resignation” on Nov. 3, fan apathy had reached a level unseen in 30 years, with empty seats and boos greeting the team at Neyland Stadium and calls for his job rampant on the radio and Internet. But some fans criticized UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton’s mid-season timing, calling it disrespectful. The same people took similar exception when Hamilton named the 33-year-old Lane Kiffin, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, as Fulmer’s replacement the day before Fulmer coached his last game. Fulmer appeared to be playing the role of a humble and beleaguered ball coach, buffeted by the political whims of a Machiavellian administration.

Until, that is, UT announced that Fulmer—whose $6 million-plus buyout package includes $125,000 a month, a car allowance, and a luxury box at Neyland Stadium for the next four years—had been hired to a three-month position as a special fund-raising assistant to UT President John Petersen at an additional salary of $12,500 a month. That came right on the heels of the announcement of a $75 million budget cut for the university system and reports of a hiring freeze and possible job cuts. Fulmer quickly gauged the prevailing political winds and turned down the job.

We Were Number One

Knoxville’s love affair with University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl reached a high point when Pearl’s team went on the road and beat the top-ranked Memphis Tigers on Feb. 23. The Vols, who started the season ranked seventh in the country, took over the number-one spot for the first time in school history.

The blush of romance was subdued three days later, however, when UT lost to Vanderbilt.

We Really Were Number One

A few people might have considered that the game caught up with Pat Summit after the University of Tennessee women’s basketball teams’ run of three straight national championships in the late 1990s. Never mind that the Lady Vols won seven straight SEC championships between 1998 and 2004, or that Summit became the all-time winningest college basketball coach in 2005. But any doubts were erased by halftime of the Lady Vols’ 64-48 win against Stanford in the most recent NCAA final, the cap to a 36-2 season and the team’s second consecutive national title and eighth overall.

Holy Cow!

If you were a kid in Knoxville in the late 1970s and early ’80s, you were either an Atlanta Braves fan or a Chicago Cubs fan. Before ESPN started broadcasting Major League Baseball, the only games you saw, aside from a couple of games a week on the major networks, were the Braves on WTBS and the Cubs on WGN. Both teams sucked, but the Cubs had a brief shining moment in 1984, thanks in large part to second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who won the MVP that year, his third in the majors. Sandberg went on to win nine consecutive Gold Gloves and holds the records for highest fielding percentage (.989) for a second baseman. He had the most career home runs (277) for the position until 2004, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Now he’s heading to East Tennessee, getting ready for his first season as manager of the Cub’s AA affiliate in Sevierville, the Tennessee Smokies.

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