I am convinced Phillip Fulmer wants to coach Vols again. Could he win a backroom power struggle to land job?
I found the response to my column about Phillip Fulmer taking over Tennessee’s football program rather odd.
There was the norm, such as those fans that believe Fulmer was the reason that UT’s program slipped. Needless to say, those fans don’t want Fulmer back at the helm.
There were a couple of very uninformed social media posts, such as Fulmer wouldn’t want to be the head coach at UT again. Then, there was a notion that Fulmer’s wife, Vicki Fulmer, wouldn’t allow her husband to return to coaching. Let’s quickly dismiss both of those notions.
There’s no question that Fulmer would like to be UT’s football coach again. He’s 22 victories from breaking General Robert Neyland’s program record of 173 wins. If UT’s football program could find its way, Fulmer, who is just 69 years old, could become UT’s all-time winning coach in 3 seasons. Yes, I know that’s a big if, but it could happen. By the way, Mack Brown is 68 and he’s currently out-recruiting Jeremy Pruitt.
As for Vicki’s influence, coaches make decisions that are meant for themselves, not their family. Fulmer would be the one calling the shot if he decided to return to the sideline.
This isn’t the first time Fulmer has pulled a coup. Remember Johnny Majors? I can’t quote Majors due to common decorum, but he’s still a bit miffed by the way he lost his job to Fulmer. Simply put, Fulmer is a master of maneuvering behind the scenes. That’s not an insult. It’s a compliment. That’s why he’s the athletic director. Fulmer raised UT to a new level after replacing Majors as head coach in 1993 after pinch-hitting the year before. Fulmer could do the same now that Jeremy Pruitt seems in way over his head.
If Fulmer wasn’t interested in taking over UT’s football program, then why was he so compelled to be at Pruitt’s postgame press conference after UT’s 29-26 loss to BYU. Athletic directors are typically rubbing elbows with boosters. Fulmer wanted to see how Pruitt would respond to another heartbreaking loss. I can’t recall Doug Dickey or Mike Hamilton ever being at a postgame press conference after a disappointing loss. Fulmer thought his presence was needed.
If Fulmer doesn’t want to be a coach again, then why is he often at UT’s practices? Why was he hit with an NCAA violation for coaching UT’s offensive linemen?
The fact that Fulmer could potentially slide into Pruitt’s spot shouldn’t surprise anyone. Fulmer usurped power just last year during the whole John Currie mess. No one saw that coming until Fulmer had secured his power.
Then, Fulmer hired a good recruiter with no head coaching experience. That wasn’t a coincidence. With a handful of strong recruiting classes, Fulmer would be able to take over for Pruitt and top Neyland’s record.
However, there are a couple of issues with that plan. The first is Pruitt might not be good enough to win, recruit well and elevate the Vols to a contending level before Fulmer is ready to take over. The timeframe has been moved up remarkably quick after losses to Georgia State and BYU.
But the biggest challenge for Fulmer to become UT’s next head coach won’t come from UT’s administration. It will come from whatever powers UT’s old guard boosters still have, which is very unclear.
Would former super-booster Bill Haslam want Fulmer to pass Neyland’s record? Remember, Haslam played for Neyland and Haslam had to sign off on Fulmer’s firing in 2008. Then, how much power does Haslam actually have any more?
For anyone who doesn’t know the many players in this drama or the nature in which they operate, all of this sounds like pure rubbish. For anyone who has closely followed another program, it’s even more insane. This isn’t another program. Tennessee’s athletic department is far more clandestine than anyone would be willing to admit.
Backroom deals are more of a tradition than the Tennessee Walking Horse. Fulmer riding such an animal through the ‘T’ one more time would only be appropriate.
If UT decides it needs to replace Pruitt, I’m sure the administration would like to find a better candidate than Fulmer. However, how could the Vols hire a better candidate than a coach who won a national title … at Tennessee? Fulmer has proven he can succeed. Hiring anyone else would be just another gamble — and one that would seem doomed to fail.
If the Vols fired Pruitt this season, what coach would accept the UT job, knowing the leash is short? Pruitt is the 4th coach UT has had in 11 seasons. What coach would want another local legend looking over his practice field on a regular basis?
Feel free to argue that Pruitt deserves more time. That makes some sense. However, if any fan is done with Pruitt, Fulmer is the only answer.