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End of an Era in Knoxville and the SEC

Posted: Nov 04, 2008

The Dean of SEC football coaches, Phillip Fulmer, announced on Monday that he would agree with the University of Tennessee’s decision for him no to return for the 2009 season. It was one of the most emotional press conferences I have ever seen from a coach, and Fulmer did a great job of expressing his love for the UT football family, the fans, his home state, and his alma mater. His ouster is just another indication of how tough the competitive landscape has become in the Southeastern Conference. Fulmer is the last coach in the league to be an alum or even a coordinator at the University where he is coaching. He represents a fading era of loyalty where coaches wanted to work their way up at their school and were not always chasing the next opportunity or paycheck. For better or worse, the current business of the SEC dictates that you are winning Championships on a regular basis or changes will occur.

As incredible as Fulmer’s first 9-10 seasons were as the Vols head coach, things have gotten progressively worse this decade. The fading of the Tennessee program seemed to start after the 2001 SEC title game, where the favored Vols blew a 10-point lead to LSU, lost 31-20, and missed the chance to play for a National Championship against Miami. Tennessee has gone 6-12 against their East rivals Florida and Georgia this decade and has not been back to a BCS game since 1999. Fulmer dominated Alabama during most of his career, but has seen his team get blown out the last two seasons by Nick Saban’s crew. Additionally, the 2008 Vols look to be on a path to a second losing season in four years, and have just not been competitive with their offense ranking 114th out of 119 teams in the nation. Obviously, athletic director Mike Hamilton felt the program had slipped enough to where the significant change needed to be made.

As ready as Vol fans are for better results on the field, it was definitely a sad day to see Fulmer step down. Only five coaches have won more SEC games than Fulmer - Bear Bryant, John Vaught, "Shug" Jordan, Vince Dooley, and Steve Spurrier – so his legacy is set in Knoxville. Now, the hard part begins as Tennessee tries to find a new boss to take on Florida, Georgia, Alabama, LSU, etc. Many of those schools had a very difficult time over the last 20-30 years trying to replace legendary coaches, and it will be very interesting to see what direction the Tennessee administration goes. One thing is for sure; the new man could not possibly have more genuine passion or love for the University of Tennessee than Phillip Fulmer.

Patrick Snow

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