sports (2006-49)

Mike Hamilton holds forth on the future of UT football

Athletics Director Q & A

Had a chance to catch up with UT AD Mike Hamilton on the radio recently. Since he was asked tough questions you won’t read anywhere else, what follows is an interview that provides an unedited look inside the present, past and perhaps future of Tennessee football. 

Q: I know that most Vol fans are pleased with the progress of the program after last year’s 5-6. But in the big picture, UT football has had some slippage. Based on winning percentage, Coach Fulmer’s teams in the ’90s averaged 10 wins every 12 games and won two SEC Championships. This decade that has fallen to 8.4 wins per 12 games without a championship. Is that meeting your expectations for Tennessee Football?

“I think that this year is more of what we’re looking for. I want us to compete for championships in all sports. And I think we were close to that this year. If we finish the game against Florida or we finish the game against LSU, not only are we in the mix for a Southeastern Championship, but we’re in the mix possibly for a BCS Bowl. And those are the kinds of things that we aspire to.

Competing for championships does not mean that you win a championship every year but realizing that there’s a lot more parity [these days in college football]. And also as I’ve mentioned several times, there are seven teams that have won National Championships in our league. Last year was not acceptable, but this year—given the injuries and the response to them—I think is acceptable. I’m proud of the effort the team put forth, particularly with the injuries we faced.”

Q: Is this year “raise worthy” for Coach Fulmer?

“We’ll sit down and talk about that. The time for determining that will come over the next several weeks. I certainly think that some of that (a raise) will come for some of our coaches. And also I think you’ll probably see some contract extensions as well.”

Q: If extensions and raises are the direction you’re going in, are steps being taken to assure that if worse comes to worse and Coach Fulmer is unable to complete his current contract that the buyout is reasonable enough to avoid a financial burden on the Athletic Department and the fan base?

“The first thing I want to say is that I have the confidence that we’re not going to have to face a buyout. That said, the way our buyout language is written is that it’s basically the amount paid out over a 48-month period of time, so by adding a one-year extension what you’re really doing is adding one year to the buyout.’

Q: Several years ago we had you on the radio show, right when you took the AD job, and you expressed your expectations of the football team competing for two and winning one SEC Championship every five years. Since it’s been eight years since our last SEC Championship, it seems that Coach Fulmer will have to win a couple straight league titles to fulfill those expectations. Or have your expectations changed?

“No they haven’t changed. Since Phillip’s been head coach, we’ve won four outright SEC East Championships and have tied for an additional two. That’s six division titles in 14 years. So you have to be in that mix to play for a conference championship. So I still think it’s realistic to expect that we can win two conference championships in a 10-year period of time while playing for four [league titles] in that same period of time.

Though we haven’t won an SEC Championship since ’98, it’s still an expectation and a goal we should set. If you don’t set those kinds of goals, certainly you’re not going to achieve them....

It’s the little things that make the difference. We lose a 21-20 game to Florida when we have a 17-7 lead going into the fourth quarter. So, the question becomes, how do we win that ballgame? How do we kick that field goal at the end so we’re sitting here today at 10-2 and maybe playing for the SEC Championship and probably in the Orange Bowl? Those are the things that I think through. There are some fans who may think we’re farther away from that but I don’t believe we are. The reality is that there are a lot of coaches out there who people think, ‘There’s the next Nick Saban or the next great thing’ and then they drop a couple and you realize they’re not that special.

The thing you’ve got with Phillip Fulmer is a coach who’s won at a high level for a long period of time. He does it in the right way, does a nice job of recruiting and representing the program. And if he continues to do those things, we will win to the level of our expectations. I acknowledge fully that we haven’t done that since ’98 in not winning an SEC Championship. But I do believe it’s coming.”

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