The Rise and Fall of Tennessee Football
Once upon a time, in 1998, the Tennessee Volunteers ruled the world. They were BCS champs, completing a 13-0 season capped with a victory over Bobby Bowden's Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl.
That proved to be the height of coach Phil Fulmer's success at UT, and the Volunteer football program soon after began its descent into mediocrity, culminating in the hire of Lane Kiffin.
The '90s: Elite
Coach Phil Fulmer became the full-time head coach of Tennessee in 1993, replacing Johnny Majors. In his first season with UT, he posted a record of 10-2, a season which ended with a loss to Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. The next season, Coach Fulmer posted a record of 8-4, and followed that up with a 1995 campaign of 11-1 and a Citrus Bowl win over Ohio State.
Tennessee was elite under Fulmer. In 1996, the Volunteers went 10-2 and earned yet another Citrus Bowl win, this time over Northwestern. In 1997, Tennessee won the SEC, and in 1998, the national title.
Tennessee enjoyed success in the 90s, and from 1993 through the 1999 season they were an astounding 72-14.
2000-2004: Sporadic Success
The Volunteers achieved sporadic success from 2000-2004, winning the SEC East on two separate occasions yet never winning the SEC Championship.
They showed early signs of decline in 2000 and especially 2005 when they posted five losses, something not done under Fulmer before. In the 2004 season, Tennessee edged rival Florida 30-28. It was the last time Tennessee was to beat Florida under Fulmer.
In 2005, Tennessee was just coming off the heels of a 10-3 record and SEC East championship and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the preseason, easily the favorites for the SEC that year. It was not to be.
Tennessee won an opening game with UAB before going on the road against Urban Meyer's Florida Gators and dropping the decision 16-7. The Vols made up ground by defeating LSU and Ole Miss, but that was followed by losses to Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Notre Dame.
By the time the miserable 2005 campaign, was over the Vols were 5-6 and didn't go bowling for the first time in the Fulmer era. The Vols bounced back the following year, posting a 9-4 record and going to the Outback Bowl, and improved the year after with a 10-4 record and an SEC East Championship.
But the 2008 campaign would prove to be too much for Vol fans. Tennessee came into the season ranked 17th, opening on the road against unranked UCLA. Tennessee dropped the contest in overtime, then struggled their way to a 5-7 record, a year which saw them get blown out by rivals Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
Tennessee was done with Phil Fulmer, and in late November signed Lane Kiffin as their new head coach.
2009 and Beyond: The Kiffin Era
On Nov. 28, 2008, Tennessee reached an agreement with former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin to run the Tennessee program. Kiffin posted an unimpressive 5-15 record while at Oakland, yet managed to somehow get the job.
The hire was marred with controversy, most of it coming from Lane himself. At a booster breakfast in early February, Lane attempted to turn Florida head coach Urban Meyer in for recruiting violations he hadn't even committed, and then went on to be slammed with three violations of his own.
Lane has put a target on the Volunteers for as long as he is there, and has proved how far this program has fallen from its former elite status.