VFL All-American Steve Kiner: Hire Phillip Fulmer as AD … and take it easy on Butch Jones

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA;  Tennessee Volunteers former quarterback Peyton Manning stands with Tennessee Volunteers vice chancellor/director of athletics Dave Hart (left) and former Volunteers head coach Phillip Fulmer (right) before the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee football program is steeped in tradition and historically one of the best in college football.

From the early days of General Robert Neyland winning four national championships and posting a 173-31-12 record, to Doug Dickey’s time in the 1960s, followed by Tennessee’s own Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer maintaining the Volunteer program at a championship level for 32 years – the Tennessee football program had not hit rocky times until the 2010s.

Butch Jones enters Year 5 after becoming, as he calls it, “the caretaker of Tennessee football” in 2013.

Expectations were not met in 2016 as preseason SEC East favorites, but the Volunteers defeated Florida for the first time since 2004 and defeated Georgia for the first time in back-to-back seasons since 2006 and 2007. Jones’ program also delivered the first stretch of three consecutive bowl appearances since 2002-2004. It sounds cliche to bring up the “first-time since” mantras, but it is the continuous proof of how far the program has fallen since Hall-of-Fame coach Fulmer’s departure following the 2008 season.

Two-time All-American (1968, 1969), SEC defensive player of the year (1969) and college football Hall-of-Fame linebacker Steve Kiner has been around throughout all of the head coaching regimes since Doug Dickey.

Kiner gave his thoughts on the current state of the program under Jones, as well as the important decision the university will make in hiring the next athletics director in the near future.

“It’s politics as usual with people inside that make decisions – and it’s more political decisions than what’s best for the athletic department,” Kiner told Saturday Down South. “If the university is going to do what is best for the athletic program, Phillip Fulmer should be the athletics director. End of conversation.

“I don’t know why they ever let Coach Fulmer go as a head coach – it’s beyond me. It’s one of the dumbest things and the football program is still paying for it.”

Kiner played alongside Fulmer at Tennessee. Kiner played for the Big Orange from 1966-1969 and Fulmer, a guard, played from 1968-1971.

“Fulmer was a sophomore when I was a senior,” Kiner said. “Phillip was a good guy, a stand up guy. I thought it was a mistake when they asked him to step down and I would love to see Phillip get the athletics director job.”

Current athletics director Dave Hart announced his departure on Aug. 18, saying his final day would be no later than June 30, 2017.

Six months later, there is not a replacement determined.

Kiner said nothing about this process makes sense.

“With Fulmer playing football here at Tennessee and being an assistant and head coach, any other candidate is out the door with me,” Kiner said. “Fulmer’s lifelong time at the university brings value. A former athlete knows the landscape of what players are going through, they know the circumstances, they just have a better feel for it.”

Fulmer, the former national champion and two-time SEC champion head coach, and David Blackburn seem to be the two finalists to replace Hart, who was hired in 2011.

Blackburn, a Loudon, Tenn., native, graduated from Tennessee after serving two years as head football student manager and student assistant under head coach Majors. He joined the Tennessee athletics department in 1992. His roles included of five years as an assistant athletics director for football administration under Fulmer. Blackburn currently holds the athletics director position at Chattanooga.

Kiner understands the good that Blackburn brings, but also understands that it is time to bring a former player and coach home to the position in overseeing the athletics department, as well as what Fulmer can bring with fundraising and getting things done with men’s and women’s athletics.

“Blackburn may be a real good businessman, that’s great, but as far as connecting with the athletes, (Fulmer) brings that with the men’s and women’s athletics,” Kiner said. “If they don’t want to hire Fulmer as athletics director – then what’s it all about? Fundraising is a big factor and he brings that to the table.”

Another element of the AD position is overseeing changes and progress of current coaches. Fulmer obviously has experience at evaluating coaches and managing change.

For Jones, his offseason has been one of assistant coaching changes following a season that did not end as expected. Kiner approved of Jones shuffling the staff to make things correct.

“I don’t really know the background of the coaches he is bringing in, but he has been shuffling the staff and rightfully so,” Kiner said. “He needs to find something that is going to work for him. I haven’t seen a lot of play on either side of the ball I like in the last year. I liked what (Joshua) Dobbs brought, he has a lot of good athletes on roster, but the continuity is not there on game day. The trust factor needs to be of the guy lined up next to you and I don’t see them playing with that level of confidence.”

Kiner sees how hiring Fulmer would benefit Jones.

“I think Fulmer would get along with Butch,” Kiner said. “I think Butch is a good coach, whether he is a great coach or not, I don’t know. He needs to take it to the next level and prove that. I don’t see anything that Jones has done that has hurt the program.

“Coach Jones has been committed to Tennessee since the day he walked on campus. He puts all of his heart, all of his energy into what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s knocking on the door and close to where they want to be. The commitment needs to be there from everyone that wants to be there.”

Lastly, the criticism that Jones takes of talking about the recruiting criteria and portfolio he has, being 5-star hearts or “champions of life,” Kiner understands the nature of the sayings from being an under-sized prospect himself and turning into a college football Hall-of-Famer and a nine-year NFL player.

“When I was recruited, I wasn’t a 5-star recruit,” Kiner said. “I do not agree with the 3-, 4-, 5-star stuff – they’re going to be twice of what they were at 20, 21 years old, if they develop, from when they were recruited. It doesn’t have anything to do with how big and good they are coming in, it’s how they develop and how good they are when they finish in the program.”

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  • I think the solution is really simple: hire Dave Blackburn as the AD, and let Blackburn hire Fulmer as his number two guy. Blackburn is a proven AD with a successful record with admittedly not much to work with. Fulmer has zero experience as an AD. So why would a premier program with tons of money to throw at its sports teams not want to hire a guy with a proven record of making a lot out of nothing? This is honestly baffling and a bit enraging. Fulmer is a great guy, but absolutely nothing demonstrates that he is the best candidate for our new AD, whereas everything shows that Blackburn is, and people have been saying it for months. This all comes down to popularity and politicking. It’s idiotic. Fulmer can have a place in the AD office, but he should not be the AD. I’m disgusted with this program that I’ve loved my entire life. I’ll always love Phil, but he’s just not the right choice when there are other Tennessee guys who love our program and want what’s best for it, with the experience to succeed.

    Hire Blackburn. It’s stupid not to.

  • I think they should hire someone with a 5 star heart and already a champion of life. Tangerine nation deserves that!

  • Nice click bait showing Manning but then having Kiner as the VFL wanting Fulmer.

    Having Blackburn as AD would be ok but Fulmer IS Tennessee. Fans tend to forget just exactly how long Fulmer was at Tennessee. Fulmer coached from 1980 to 2008 being head coach from 1992 to 2008. This man probably knows more about Tennessee athletics and SEC than anyone else. Other head coaches have had success as AD’s so why not Fulmer? The man bleeds orange which is exactly what we need.

  • How much money did the Search Firm make???

  • UT should take a page from the current UF playbook and hire Fulmer as Ambassador and Consultant, and hire Blackburn as AD. They’ll get both guys, and make most folks happy.

  • Steve Kiner gets it. “Phil Fulmer, end of conversation.”

  • The bottom line is can the AD line up boosters and donors for UT

    Fuller was fired because he ticked off some powerful alumni so they got Hammy to pull the trigger and fire Fulmer

    I really liked Tennessee when Fulmer was Coach and hope the boosters (Harlem and company) allow it to happen

  • Not only is Blackburn an experienced and successful AD, but he also loves the University just like Fulmer does. He’s a known quality.

    Fulmer – sure he loves Tennessee, but Tennessee also had to pay the man Six Million Dollars to shut up and go away. Since he cashed everyone of those checks and put our AD in the red, he can start by donating some of that money back to the University he loves.

    Finally, do people STILL not understand why he was fired? He went 5-6 in 2005, after performing at such a high level for so long. He said to give him a chance to right the ship, and we did. He hired Dave Cutcliffe for two years, and we had two pretty good years, and then Tennessee went 5-7 in 2008, including a loss. at home. to… wyoming.!. That was only the second time in Tennessee’s long storied history (referenced in paragraph one of this very article) that Tennessee had lost as many as seven games in one season. And so when you post the 2nd-ever 7-loss season, after saying you needed one more chance, then at that point, it’s time for you to go.

    Now, granted, the university didn’t handle the next few years well, but the guy wanted another chance, he got another chance, and he failed. Buh’Bye!

    Hindsight is 20/20.

    It’s probably not a good idea for the university to take a guy they FIRED for incompetence, and then put him in charge of Hiring & Firing for the position for which he was fired.

    • Exactly. Blackburn is the smart choice. He has made Nooga competitive and profitable in every sport and he is a UT guy also. Give Fulmer whatever title you need to get him in the Athletic dept and let him focus on fundraising and using his connections to help the football program. Its a pretty easy decision, don’t know why its taking so long. Its not like Fulmer has leverage considering he has never been an AD at any time.

  • Steve Kiner…..I feel sorry for those young people who did not get to see him play. I will never forget those wonderful days.
    Steve Kiner, Hacksaw Reynolds, and Jackie Walker was the best group of college linebacker’s of their day and Tennessee has not seen their kind since.

  • Kiner: “I think it was a mistake asking Fulmer to step down”…

    Hey Kiner, you got a short memory. I was sitting in Neyland on 50-yard line in 2008 wearing crimson when Bama had at least 30,000 in stadium and took it over. They showed Fulmer on JumboTron before game and Vol fans booed him like hell. Of course, Saban handed him his head on a platter. But it wasn’t time for him to go? Lol bring him back, it will make Bama want to even beat UT worse.

    -True Story ^ 10 in a row