In Knoxville, the spirits are high because Bruce Pearl and the Vols basketball team is on a roll. Empty seats in Thompson Boling Arena are a thing of the past.
Normally, this time of year, the Vols faithful are torn between gearing up for a bowl game for Philip Fulmer and Co. and watching the beginning of new seasons for Pearl and his female counterpart, Pat Summit, and the Lady Vols.
That has changed.
The football team is on the verge of the most embarrassing season in school history, and the end of an era is upon us. Fulmer will not be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee next season.
With this era coming to an end, it leaves me to ponder several things about the future of Tennessee athletics.
First, the direction of the football team.
Looking back through the ages at numerous college football teams, there seems to be a cycle. There is never a dominant team that lasts forever.
Look at what happened at the University of Florida when Steve Spurrier left for the NFL. The Ron Zook Era in Gainesville was successful according to most schools' standards, but for the Gators, it left a sour taste in their mouths.
As far as the possible candidates for the future head coaching position, none are what the Tennessee program was built around.
Fulmer was a Tennessee guy from the get go. No one will ever question that.
Now, if the athletic department brings in a Lane Kiffin or Butch Davis, how do the fans react? Will they tolerate an adjustment period? Just ask Dave Clawson.
Whoever replaces Fulmer will have talent to build around. Players like Eric Berry, Gerald Jones, B.J. Coleman, and Lennon Creer will leave lasting impressions at UT. Regardless of what is said, these young men are great athletes, or they would not be here.
Secondly, will the faithful come back? Did Athletic Director Mike Hamilton burn too many bridges with the way this situation was handled, or is he just a puppet being pulled by strings from a distance?
These questions are still to be answered, and only time will tell. Hamilton struck gold when he hired Bruce Pearl. Now he needs to strike oil, gold, and silver all in one shot.
Depending upon what happens within the next few months, all will be well when the fans in Knoxville realize that this program is bigger than all of these people.
The tradition will continue, and the sun will rise again on Rocky Top.
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