As I sat and watched coach Phillip Fulmer read his prepared statement earlier this evening, I couldn't help thinking about that Tradition/Fiddlin' on the Roof post I threw together almost a year ago. Like most things in the blogosphere (which puts a premium on speed and timing), that post was basically a casserole of concepts thrown together out of whatever I had in the cupboard at the time. Hey, if the kids didn't like it, they could fix themselves a sandwich, aiiight? If you're fairly new around these parts, the Tradition post basically just compared the spectacle of college football generally, and the volatile 2007 season specifically, to that of a fiddler on a roof:
A high-altitude gable is a perilous perch from which to attempt anything other than simply maintaining your equilibrium, but football fans' heroes make the best music when the stakes are high and the position precarious. Of course, many fail and fall, all the while accompanied by a cacophony of outrageous insults, and gravity and momentum often deposit them in locales they never would have imagined from the roof. There, at the bottom, they shake off the dust, re-climb the ladder, set their feet, and strike the bow to see what may happen the next time.
Why do they stay up there if it is so dangerous? And how do they keep their balance?
That I can tell you in one word.
Yes, Tradition, that bundle of history, ritual, and routine that permeates all of college football and a small handful of institutions, like Tennessee, in particular. The image was just so apt.
As with many casseroles, though, something I hadn't really planned on became the most memorable aspect of the entire concoction. The realization hit mostly after the post had gone live, but it was clear: Tennessee Volunteer head coach Phillip Fulmer was just like Tevye. Yes, coach Fulmer was The Papa, a guy who'd been hugging history and tradition so tightly that it had become both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He had voluntarily assumed the role as the proverbial salt of the earth, the individual charged with preserving the way things were, the guy who was constantly reminding his peers of the good old days, the paternal old crank who, whether you wanted him to or not, took it upon himself to shield and protect you from the decomposition that too often follows forgetting where you're from.
Yeah, that was him, bucking and bridling and otherwise resistant to any change that threatened to intrude into his cozy corner of the community. Yet he was also the guy who, after undoubtedly hashing things out by way of a conflicted internal monologue, ultimately acquiesced to the inevitable with an endearing civility you had come to expect from him.
No, he will never, ever be comfortable with any change, much less this. He will bristle and cajole and attempt to convince you that you are in error, but in the end he will gracefully allow you to choose your own way. And like any good parent, teacher, mentor, or leader, his countenance may falter as he watches that which he has reared now make its way into the wilderness without him, but he will console himself with hopes and prayers that his relentlessly gentle admonitions to choose rightly, to choose Tradition and Honor and Character, have taken root in the next generation.
Consider it done, coach. You will always be Tevye to me. Thank you.