sports (2006-25)

As long as he’s coaching, Fulmer looks to get paid, and well

One Game Changes Everything

by Tony Basilio

The reality of this season could not be more stark for Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee Vols. It seems the World Cup has the right idea with its tag line of “One Game Changes Everything.” UT needs one game, the Cal game, to change the fortunes of what looks to be a tumultuous ’06 and beyond. Whether that happens or not is conjecture. Whether he gets back to the top of the mountain at Tennessee or is tossed off the side by the multitudes, Fulmer will remain a rich man as long as he chooses to serve as a head coach in NCAA Division 1 football.

So, those harboring hopes of a nervous head coach worried about losing his prospects of retaining a $2 million annual salary need to reconsider and find another angle with which to attack Fulmer. As long as he stays in the game, whether it’s here or at another BCS school, he will get paid a jumbo sum.

A look at Fulmer’s bio on the Tennessee’s website, UTSports.com, has all the selling points that any athletic director or president at any major university would love to see on resume coming across his or her desk for a vacancy.  Fulmer’s bio boasts the following:

· UT has been in the national polls at game time for 138 of Fulmer’s 154 games as head coach.

· Captured the school’s second consensus national title with a perfect 13-0 record in 1998

· Won a pair of Southeastern Conference championships (1997, 1998) and six SEC Eastern Division crowns (1993, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004)

· Posted a 82-24 record against SEC opponents

· Won 39 of 66 games against nationally-ranked opponents

· Won 72 of 86 games played at Neyland Stadium

· Played in 11 January bowl games

The myopia that sets in from seeing Fulmer up close can’t obfuscate the impressive numbers he’s been able to amass. Yeah, I know all about the Maalox moments versus Spurrier and the decision to remain loyal to Dandy Randy too long. Sure, there’s the dismal record against topflight opponents in the 21st Century in Neyland Stadium. You can make the case that UT is losing ground in the recruiting battles and thus on the field to Georgia, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama and, to some extent, South Carolina. You could even claim that Tennessee seems to be sliding into the abyss of the second division in the always-rugged SEC. 

Yet, none of the above will devalue Fulmer on the open market. He’s made his mark at Tennessee and, for that matter, in the sport of college football. In the end, whether he leaves Knoxville having rescued the Vols or sending them into the Tennessee River with the Orange Millstone anchored to the program, Phillip Fulmer if he chooses to coach again will do so with a similar contract at a topflight school.

Mark Schlabaugh has covered UT in some capacity over the past decade as a college football reporter at both the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Washington Post. Schlabaugh, who is on his way to ESPN where he will continue to report on college sports, sees Fulmer as a marketable commodity. “Even if Fulmer gets fired at Tennessee after this season or next, he will do more than land on his feet. Now, I don’t think that will happen, because I think he will be able to salvage something this season. But if he did get fired, someone would snatch him right up and pay him similar money as to what he’s making right now,” Schlabaugh said.

Quizzed as to how many universities have the coin to come to the table with $2 million per year, Schlabaugh offered the following: “There are at least 30 programs that are capable of paying that kind of money for someone they believe in. And I can tell you this. There are a lot of programs in BCS leagues that would take a chance on him to see if he could do at their school what he’s been able to do at Tennessee.”

To add some perspective on the kind of money that’s flying around major college football, consider these numbers:

No less than 60 head coaches are scheduled to make at least $1 million in the upcoming ’06 season.

In the state of Florida alone, at least five head coaches in college football are making at least $1 million per year. Of course you’ve guessed Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida as schools paying big bucks. You can add Central Florida’s George O’Leary and South Florida’s Jim Leavitt to the Sunshine State millionaire club.

The last huge raise in college football was an eye-opener at Iowa where Kirk Ferentz, whose resume pales in comparison to Fulmer’s, jumped from $1.4 million per season to $2.8 million overnight.

“One game may change everything,” Schlabaugh says. But one or two bad seasons won’t, as far as Phillip Fulmer’s marketability is concerned. He may not be the hot commodity he once was, but he’s a commodity.

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.


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