I would imagine it's easy to take the "just trust the coaches" or the "the coaches know more than you do" stance. It would probably be equally as easy to just blame everything on Fulmer.
After all, Fulmer is responsible for the sub-par talent left at Tennessee, the lack of a suitable QB, and an apparent lack of team discipline. Phil had seemed to have lost his ability to either develop great recruits or lost his eye for what a great recruit actually looked like.
For most Tennessee fans and followers, that road is the road they'll take. Most of them will blame Phil and tell you that anything bad that happens on Lane Kiffin's watch for the next two seasons is all Phil's fault.
When Lane Kiffin was fired by Al Davis and the Raiders, I called up my father and said, "that's the guy I want to be our next coach, no matter what we do the rest of the season."
I didn't care what Davis was saying, all I cared about was that Kiffin learned under Carroll and that ESPN's Chris Mortensen, who I respect a ton, said he was told by many in the business that Kiffin would be a "coaching star".
Throughout the offseason, Kiffin's controversial comments and actions were eaten alive by every orange-blooded freak out there, including myself. Sure, there were a couple of times I paused a little, but you could almost see the plan and honestly, I just trusted Kiffin knew what he was doing.
Now, the Vols are sitting at 2-3, and many questions and concerns have come to me that have literally nothing to do with Phillip Fulmer. Call it contrarian, call it whatever you want, but there have been some situations that leave some room for concern.
Kiffin has stated all along that he and his staff have a plan. Yes, it's absurd to expect Kiffin to fully detail his plan to the general public, as that's not his job nor his responsibility.
However, it's coming to a place where some things probably could be addressed. Kiffin is adamant about staying with Jon Crompton, a fifth-year senior who won't be back next season.
What benefit is staying with Jon doing? What are you telling the team and the fans? Is it that your first two years don't matter? The Vols are going to be lucky to win five games this season, and next season is going to be even harder.
Let's assume that Nick Stephens is on the team next season, what could it hurt to let him play this year out and see what you've got? If he's bad, then you are looking at a QB competition by starting Crompton, anyway. What did you lose?
Nearly every single fan I spoke with or saw their opinion felt Fulmer should've pulled Jon Crompton last season. There were very few—and I mean very few—people who took anything Fulmer said as acceptable until he made a change.
When Kiffin got here, to his credit, he made it clear he was going to make his own opinion and not base it on last season's games. Well, it's obvious to anyone who wants to see it that Crompton is the same player, but what do we know about Nick Stephens?
For some reason, Kiffin being adamant about staying with Crompton is acceptable to some and if you question that, you aren't a real fan. Why does this apply to Fulmer and not Kiffin?
Leaving Crompton in the game serves no purpose—none. Crompton is leaving, Stephens will be a senior. If he puts Stephens in, he can't be worse, because the Vols can't score with Crompton as it is. It's clear Stephens isn't that good, so he could still have an open competition in the spring with whomever comes in.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why, when the rest of the team performs poorly, Kiffin says competition is open, but Crompton is the worst QB in school history and his job is safe?
Another aspect of the Kiffin regime most were looking forward to was the injection of youth into the lineup. Kiffin made it clear early on that the young guys would get the first looks and the best chances to play. If they could make plays, they'd be in the game.
Against Western Kentucky, he held true to his word. Numerous freshmen played and scored, and Kiffin had his youth movement. However, against UCLA, that notion seemed to disappear.
For the most part, in the UCLA, Florida, and Auburn games, the offensive lineup on the field has mirrored the lineup that Fulmer fielded. Nevermind that Gerald Jones can't run a correct route and Quentin Hancock drops way too many passes; the freshman are not playing major snaps.
On Tennessee's first play from scrimmage against Auburn, Kiffin lined up Nu'Keese Richardson and ran a QB draw for 41 yards. This was a play in a formation the Vols hadn't run all season, and it showed that Auburn struggled to defend it by the yardage gained.
One play gains 41 yards, and Tennessee, while struggling on offense to score, goes back to it to see if Auburn can stop it, right? No. Never. Not only did Kiffin not run the same play again, he didn't show the formation or even the personnel package.
I'm sorry, but this makes me wonder, why? I don't care what you call the play, I don't care how little you've practiced it. If you run a play that gains 41 yards the first time you run it and you struggle to score points, it only makes common sense to go back to it at some time.
That's one example of what has been a concerning pattern in play-calling. You could list the last possession vs. UCLA, the whole game at Florida, and just Crompton throwing the ball 44 times in any game, in general.
Again, the easy road most will take will be something along the lines of, "the coaches know more than you, you are nothing but an armchair QB." My answer? You didn't mind questioning Fulmer about it. You didn't mind threatening Randy Sanders' children at school over his play calling.
Overall, my frustration comes from Kiffin being "my guy." I believed every word he said, just like many others. The problem is that now, I see it for what it is.
Some of the biggest complaints of Fulmer's team's performance was that they obviously weren't coached right. They obviously didn't prepare well enough. This coaching staff was supposed to be an upgrade at every position.
Maybe it was just me, but it was easy to assume that with superior coaching would come superior performance, and it hasn't. Anyone who asserts they didn't expect more than what they are getting right now just isn't being honest.
Yes, Lane Kiffin is smarter than me and no, I'm not paid to be a football coach. But how do you, as a fan who cares about this program, walk through every day not at least asking questions?
At this point, there is literally no difference in the effectiveness of the Tennessee offense than there was last season. The stats are skewed by Western Kentucky, so that's not the answer.
Still, to this day, I believe Lane Kiffin and his staff will eventually improve the Vols and bring them back to some level of respectability. But, I also believe that it's not out of line to start asking some questions of Kiffin.
Lane is being paid approximately five million dollars over the next two seasons and his staff will make approximately 10-11 million. Tennessee could win less than 10 games over that time frame.
I'm sorry, I just have a little trouble with the thought of the worst two consecutive seasons in the history of the program when everything was supposed to be upgraded. Obviously, something crazy could happen and the light come on, but as of right now, it's time to ask some questions.
Phillip Fulmer won a ton of games at Tennessee and brought home a national championship, the first in 50 years. Most people who are living today's best memories of UT football came with Fulmer on the sideline.
I was ready for Fulmer to move on, but if it was ok to question him, then it's certainly ok to question Kiffin. There is no way in the world I can justify criticizing Phillip Fulmer and not saying a word while Lane Kiffin makes his own mistakes.