sports (2007-39)

Toxic City


Hard questions and answers with Tony

by Tony Basilo

With the Florida game in the not-so-distant past, Tennessee is a broken program in a toxic city. Urban Meyerâ’s patented spread offense that was ridiculed upon his arrival from Utah is obviously working since the chasm between Tennessee and Florida is widening. Last week in this space, we documented Tennesseeâ’s troubles against the rest of the league as well, which now leave Phillip Fulmer in a literal fight for his coaching life.

So where does that leave the Volunteer nation? With a lot of frustration! In my 13 plus years of doing sports radio every day in this town, this is as toxic as Iâ’ve seen Vol fans.

Listening to Fulmer since the Florida game makes me feel really sorry for the guy. Hereâ’s someone who seems to be out of answers. He sounded resigned to the fact that the Vols are what they are. All the years of pounding the pavement, the millions of dollars in renovations to regal facilities, the thousands of miles traveled. The time sacrificed away from family and other personal interests. All the highs, the lowsâthe blood, sweat, and Big Orange tears... 15 years after taking over the helm in Knoxville, Fulmer is lording over a train-wreck that has put up UTâ’s most unimpressive 28 game stretch (16-12 overall) since 1979-81. How must the guy feel to read that? You know he wants to win, yet it isnâ’t happening. The big boys are running away from Fulmer like Brandon James and DeSean Jackson running away from his punt coverage team.

I took notes working on this immediately following UTâ’s chomp in the swamp while listening to the state-run call-in show on the Vol Network. I couldnâ’t help but marvel at what I heard. Many formerly trauma-bonded Vol fans are sounding liberated by reality. A couple weeks later the sentiment continues.

What follows is a synopsis of each call taken. Keep in mind that this is state-run, state-wide, Vol Network radio that filters negative callers like Soviet TASS in the heyday of the Kremlin. It seems only proper to give my answer to each concerned caller as we go.

â“Our special teams man. What is up with out special teams, man? When is Fulmer going to wake up on the special teams, man?â”

TBâ’s Answer: Tennessee is the lone team in Division 1-A that has given up two punt returns for a touchdown on the year. It seems that Fulmer will wake up on the special teams when Travis Henry gets father of the year from the National Fatherhood Initiative.

â“The gap between Tennessee and Florida is huge. Where are all of our recruits? The Vols and Gators are no longer a rivalry.â”

TB: Tennessee needs linemen on both sides and doesnâ’t have any. The Vols and Gators are a rivalryâ.in basketball.

â“We need some changes around here on our defense. Iâ’m sick of it. Iâ’m tired of getting creamed in big games and Iâ’m out of here.â”

TB: You may not be the only one whoâ’s out of here if Tennessee doesnâ’t start winning games that matter. Georgia will be huge!

â“Itâ’s time for a change. Phillip Fulmer, while I like him, just doesnâ’t seem to have the fire in the belly.â”

TB: I donâ’t like speculating whatâ’s in someoneâ’s belly. Fulmer does want to win and he does work extremely hard. One has to wonder how it feels for him to truly be under the gun for the first time in his UT career.

â“Our athletes look so slow and lethargic compared with Floridaâ’s. Are we ever going to be an upper echelon team under this staff again?â”

TB: Thatâ’s the $6 to 10 million question!

â“I think itâ’s time for a change here in Knoxville. What do you guys think of that?â”

TB: Tennessee will have to win an SEC Title in the next two years or a change is coming. Ready or not! Georgia and Bama are huge in the meantime.


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