Ear to the Ground: "Writing a Check"

"Writing a Check"

News that Vol football Coach Phil Fulmer will not return next year did not come as a surprise to campus insiders. Since the Georgia game, one of the big boosters has been texting Athletic Director Mike Hamilton every time a Vol opponent scores a touchdown—and you know that's a lot of texts—saying, "I'm ready to write the check."

Fulmer is owed a $6 million buy-out thanks to a seven-year contract with the school, signed this past summer.

We understand the big boosters have made it clear that Hamilton will not be able to pull a "Bruce Pearl" and get someone from a small school and elevate him to head the Vol football program, the way he did with the basketball program. They want an established coach with head-coaching experience and a proven track record to lead the program. This would seem to rule out various hot offensive and defensive coordinators often mentioned on talk shows and on the message boards. None of the existing coaches or recent former UT coaches are expected to be retained or re-hired.

The News Sentinel sports department has been all over the story. Sports editor John Adams called for Fulmer to resign months ago, and Dave Hooker recently had a story quoting sources saying pressure was on to get Fulmer out. Perhaps the animosity toward the News Sentinel explains why the story was leaked to Chris Low at ESPN.com on Monday morning—who got a clear beat on it.

The Bottom Line

The University of Tennessee Athletic Department budget for the next few years is reliant on a long-term contract which generates football revenue from ad sales for the Vol network and other fees. UT is two years into a 10-year contract with media-rights holder IMG (operating locally as the Vol Network) that is to net the university $83.4 million.

So how does the struggling team's record (currently 3-6 ) affect the bottom line?

Due to the popularity of UT football, most revenue streams are pre-sold. Ad sales and other revenue sources should be fine for this season—even a losing season will not likely affect the bottom line much for this year. But if the team should finish at a dismal, oh, 6-6, the sales for next year will be a hard sell indeed. It will be one of many factors in choosing a new coach—one who can re-energize fans, boosters, and advertisers.

This year's record will also affect the decisions of television executives about which UT games to carry next year—another major revenue source for the university.

Contract Scrutiny

The special prosecutor in Memphis is still reviewing audits of Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's office, but has another subject under review.

Prosecutor William Bright has also received information surrounding the operation of the county mulch facility in Solway and the awarding of a new contract to NRR. The company operated the facility without paying the county any royalties on its product, reportedly given permission by the late John Evans, who was the county director of solid waste. The matter remains in litigation.

County Commission approved a settlement of legal issues and extended the contract, but the matter has not been finally settled. Environmental Protection Agency investigators have been in town and have interviewed several parties to the controversy.

Jimmy's Day Off

Congressman Jimmy Duncan takes one day off every two years. He instructs his staff to not schedule anything the day after the election. Duncan then starts the next day campaigning for his next term in two years. It's not so much that Duncan is a slacker by taking the day after the election off. It's that he's admitted to being a political junkie who stays up all night getting election returns from all across America. But he didn't get his day off this week. He was scheduled for a ribbon-cutting on a big project in Blount County on Wednesday.