A Dark Day for the Big Orange as Phil Fulmer Steps Down

Jeffrey McDanielCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

Tennessee Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer met with university officials Monday morning to discuss the future of Volunteer football.  By mid-afternoon, word had spread throughout that Fulmer was out.  He would be leaving on his own terms, sort of.

But Fulmer’s tearful media address Monday afternoon seemed to suggest that this wasn’t what he wanted at all.

Fulmer pointed to his 2009 Top 10 recruiting class as a sign that the trend is reversing, but the university thought otherwise.

Now, it seems that the university asked Fulmer to resign, effective at season’s end.

Fulmer’s fate is part of a trend in college football, where tenured coaches are being chased away from programs where they’ve had success. 

The worst part is that Fulmer isn’t to blame.

When he took the reins officially in 1993, he quickly made Tennessee football relevant on a national scale.  That year, he ended a seven-year losing streak to Alabama, tying the Tide 17-17 in Birmingham.  Later that year, he signed Peyton Manning. 

During the better part of the 1990s, only one team stood in Tennessee’s way: Florida.  Fulmer had no problem crossing into Georgia for the top players.  He recruited on a national level.

What hurt Fulmer the most was Georgia’s hiring of Mark Richt.  Richt closed the state of Georgia almost completely (Eric Berry is from Georgia) to Tennessee recruiting.

Georgia was good in Richt’s first year, and only got better.  There is a reason why the SEC is considered the best conference in college football. 

Over the last seven years, everybody got better.  Even Vanderbilt!

Urban Meyer brought Florida a national title in year two.  Bruce Pearl brought Tennessee a powerhouse Men’s basketball program with someone else’s players in year one, and they weren’t even that good.  

Throw in Nick Saban’s success at Alabama, the Tide are unbeaten and No. 1 in the current BCS standings, and Fulmer didn’t stand a chance.  Fans began asking familiar questions like, What have you done for us lately? Why can’t we get a coach who will win for us in the first couple of years? 

Disgruntled fans failed to realize that the 2005 Volunteers were two fumbles in the end zone (going in, mind you!) away from finishing 7-4.  Both fumbles were sure-fire touchdowns.  Both resulted in no points.  Tennessee lost those two games by a total of four points.

Few fans wanted to know what Fulmer has actually done for them lately.  The Volunteers actually earned a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game just last season.  And they didn’t back their way in, as many media stuffed shirts might suggest.  For proof, see Kentucky in four overtimes, http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=273280096  .

Among the many criticisms, is Fulmer’s record against the Big Three, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.  Since 2000, Fulmer’s teams have beaten Florida three times (2001, 2003 and 2004), Georgia three times (2004, 2006 and 2007) and Alabama five times (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006).

Fulmer ran the program with dignity and class.  Tennessee was never found guilty of any NCAA violations.  Volunteer players routinely went onto the NFL.

In his media address Monday, the word “family” kept coming up.  Senior offensive lineman, Ramon Foster had the sound bite of the day.

“Tennessee [football] is a family, for one, and we take care of each other,” said Foster, adding, “that right there wasn’t very stand-up of Tennessee.”

Over the next few months, it’s gonna be a question of whether Tennessee can stand up and hire the right guy, especially since the right guy just resigned.