Phillip Fulmer Is Not the Answer for the Tennessee Vols Football Program
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With the University of Tennessee football program having now gone more than two weeks since the firing of Derek Dooley as its head football coach, tensions are rising and patience is wearing thin in Knoxville. Based on the attitudes of callers to local sports talk radio shows and posters on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, a sense of desperation has taken over among many on Rocky Top.
The dismay among the Vol Nation took an even sharper turn downward when reports surfaced at the end of last week that prohibitive fan favorite Jon Gruden would most likely not be looking to take over the helm for the Volunteers. Now, the panic-stricken faithful, or at least those who take to the airwaves and Internet, are offering suggestions that oftentimes seem to border on ridiculous.
For example, a caller to radio station WNML recently suggested that UT athletic director Dave Hart should contact 83-year-old Bobby Bowden to lure him out of retirement.
A suggestion that has been made more than once by some fans has been to bring back Phillip Fulmer to his alma mater for another stint as head coach.
While it is true that Fulmer led Tennessee during some of its finest seasons, including the 1998 national championship campaign, the idea of him coming back is not worthy of consideration. After all, the former coach is now 62 years old and has been out of the game since 2008.
If ever a program needed stability rather than a quick fix, it is this one. After having had Lane Kiffin bolt following only one season and then firing Dooley near the end of his third year, Tennessee needs to land a coach who has the potential to set up shop for a longer length of time. And to expect Fulmer to coach more than a few years effectively at his age would be hopeful at best.
Further, Fulmer's tenure did not end well in Knoxville. Two losing seasons over his final four years created a divided fanbase, the effects of which can still be seen today. Whoever the new coach is, one of his first tasks will be to try and unite Vol Nation behind him and his team. That would be difficult for someone who just a few short years ago was seen as the cause of that split among fans and a rumored power play among key donors.
Consider too that much of Fulmer's success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s came when rival powers Florida, Georgia and Alabama were coached by the likes of Ron Zook, Jim Donnan and Mike Shula. The win numbers began to go down when Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Nick Saban took over those respective programs.
However, the reason some are suggesting Fulmer might well be the success seen this season by Bill Snyder at Kansas State. After stepping away from the game in 2005, the now-73-year-old came back for a second stint in Manhattan beginning in 2008. This year, the Wildcats posted an 11-1 record and have earned a Fiesta Bowl bid.
Perhaps some Tennessee faithful feel as though Fulmer could find some of that same magic. However, those two losing seasons in four years and the stronger lineup of rival coaches suggest otherwise in a Southeastern Conference that is much tougher than the Big-12 opponents Kansas St. plays against.
Ironically, Hart is reportedly in New York interviewing potential head coaches at the same time Fulmer is taking his place in the College Football Hall of Fame. The former coach is a significant part of Tennessee's past and deserves his upcoming induction.
However, this is not the time for the Volunteers to be looking backward. The focus must be on the future if this program is to become relevant in the SEC again. Fulmer's record as head coach at the University of Tennessee was an impressive 152-52, and that's where it needs to stay.
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