There’s been a lot of talk this offseason concerning the direction of the Vols football program, but Tennessee just made one of the more amicable moves in recent memory: the hiring of Phil Fulmer as special adviser to President Joe DiPietro.
The hire was met with resounding approval across the board. Finally, Vols fans of all walks have something they can all agree on.
There are a few things to take away from the hire.
A “Stabilizing Force”
Fulmer was the epitome of stability during his football tenure at Tennessee. He won a national championship, had only one losing season his entire career, and was named SEC Coach of the Year in 1998.
Ask any realistic fan and they will tell you since Fulmer left, things have been far from stable on Rocky Top football-wise. Back-to-back nine win seasons is the most consistency fans have had in almost a decade since Fulmer was ousted from the program.
The basketball program has had three coaches in the past four seasons. They haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2013.
The baseball program just replaced their head coach. The Lady Vols have not lived up to expectations and there are questions surrounding Holly Warlick.
In truth, the softball program has really been the lone program of consistency for UT recently.
“I wanted to be a stabilizing force, because we have been through so much. Now we have to stabilize everything and get everything going in the right direction.” - Phillip Fulmer
When he was head coach, Fulmer was part of a staff that worked entirely as a group - evidenced by his statement that, “It was everybody on campus that led to that success”. This type of continuity played a major part in the national championship and 152 wins he compiled in 17 seasons.
He also stressed how important it was that everyone work together to achieve a common goal and how when people don’t work together, bad things happen.
“It’s really difficult to win and be champions in anything, even when things are going really well…. But when everybody is not pulling in the same direction, it’s impossible.”
“It’s about being the best in all sports, about being the best in all of the universities, in all departments that we possibly can…. Everybody has to pull in the same direction and I can help with that.” - Phillip Fulmer
Coming from the fact that Fulmer’s job is titled “special adviser”, one would have to think that Fulmer will in fact be a direct adviser to DiPietro on any and all decisions concerning the future of the athletics program, and that can’t be a bad thing.
You would think that Fulmer is entirely capable of banding everyone together in order to get the Vols back to the glory days.
The Football Program Will Benefit Greatly.
As always, football is king, and kings get what they need.
And Fulmer is exactly what the football program needed.
We all know this is a huge season for Butch Jones. These days, it seems as if there are weekly columns discussing how his job in on the line or that UT is destined for a mediocre bowl at the end of the 2017 season.
Questions about Jones’s ability to get the job done in Tennessee have been more prevalent than ever, some questions being justified, while the others are considered as flat-out speculation.
However, Fulmer had a very realistic outlook on where the program stands and the job that Jones has done thus far.
“You think of where we started and where we are now, he has done a heck of job. We want that next step, hopefully we get that done.” - Phillip Fulmer
He has also been on record saying that the Vols are “very close” to getting to the next level, which is a SEC Championship appearance.
As mentioned earlier, Fulmer had one losing season in 17 years at UT. Since he left, the program has endured four losing seasons since 2010 alone.
And like Fulmer said, stability is key to a successful program. I am no Butch apologist, but I believe that unless this year is an absolute disaster, then he should be back for the 2018 season no matter what.
If Jones falters to a 6-6 or even 5-7 record, you better believe there will be many people calling for his head. It seems as if Fulmer can be a major player in keeping Jones around for one more season, especially with the incoming class of 2018 being as good as it is.
Fulmer unfortunately knows how the wrong decision at the wrong time can absolutely derail a program, and one is led to believe he will fight for the best decision regarding the university’s interests.
That one decision alone could either propel the program forward or set it back another seven years, ala the Kiffin/Dooley decisions.
Money, Money, MONEY!!
John Currie was mostly hired as athletic director because of his insane ability to generate fundraising for the university. When Fulmer was being touted as a possible candidate for athletic director, that was also mentioned as a strong suit.
With the past supposedly behind them, just imagine the type of funds they could raise as a duo?
The money has been rolling in for UT over the past few seasons, and with these two at the helm the potential income is even greater than before.
A lot of that has been because of the excitement surrounding the football program and one has to think that Fulmer can help the other departments excel in that area just as effectively.
A Great Move For John Currie?
This could not have been a better move for the program, but even more so for John Currie.
Or is it a great move for him? We will get back to that question in a second.
When Currie was originally hired back in February, there was a perception that Fulmer had been unfairly omitted from the hiring process. Many people did not like the thought of that potential situation unfolding in their minds.
Fulmer put that to rest during his press conference stating that there was “absolutely no animosity” between any and all parties involved during the hiring process, most importantly, including Currie.
“I simply felt compelled to try for the position because of my love and passion for the university,” Fulmer said. “I went through the proper channels and appreciated the support I received internally and from the alumni and fans, but it was made clear to me from the very beginning that I did not fit the criteria.” - Phillip Fulmer
A few colleagues and ex-players felt that Fulmer was dealt a bad hand, and that reflected in many fans throughout the state.
Now that Fulmer is in an official role at the university, tensions should ease up toward Currie. Not that the animosity is/was justified, but he does have a history of riling up fan bases and creating “riffs” with coaches, which can rub folks the wrong way.
But all of that is supposedly in the past. Only father time will be able to tell if that changes.
It seems that for the moment, everything is gravy and the administration can now really get to rolling, but did this hire also put an elephant in the room?
It was no secret that there was displeasure when Currie was hired. Many felt that since he had a slight hand in Fulmer’s firing, it equates to poor decision making and that poor judgement could reflect through the decisions he makes in the future.
So let’s get hypothetical and say that the football and basketball programs are just complete trash this year and underperform in the absolute worst possible way. Currie would then be under heavy pressure to possibly make huge decision(s) regarding the future of key areas in the athletics department.
What if the decision(s) Currie makes doesn’t work? Since Fulmer is already on campus, will people start clamoring for Fulmer to replace Currie? Will they pin the obvious bad on Currie and the good on Fulmer, without knowing who really is at fault?
In this day and age, every one has a voice and fan pressure through social media and other avenues can have a huge impact on the decisions that institutions make.
All questions aside, this was an excellent move for the university and the current administration. Not only did they find a way to connect with the fans, but they also brought in someone who not only deserved a role such as this, but a person who will execute the responsibilities of this role in the best way possible.
Kudos, Phil! It’s nice to have you back!