If you follow the Tennessee Volunteers, then you know about the revolving door at head coach for most of the major sports. There have been many, many faces to don the main spot of the orange and white over the past decade.
But it appears the baseball team’s search for a long-term head coach is over after Phillip Fulmer extended Tony Vitello on Wednesday.
Vitello’s first two years at Tennessee have been outstanding. He took a 27-win program in 2017 and won 29 games the next season, the most games ever won by a first-year head coach. He then proved that 2018 was no fluke, as he led the Vols to their first 40-win season and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.
The extension keeps Vitello in Knoxville through 2024. Per utsports.com, he will make $580,000 in 2020 and his salary will be in the $650,000 range by the end of the contract.
It’s a good move for the Vols, but it was also an obvious one. More importantly, however, is the fact that Phillip Fulmer got the job done, ensuring the program’s rise as Vitello continues to lead the team.
The move also represents solidity and consistency at the head coaching position, something that other programs - the largest ones, at that - haven’t had in a very long time.
The basketball and football programs have had a combined seven head coaches at the helm since 2010. Until the hiring of Rick Barnes, the basketball program was in a major state of limbo after the exit of Donnie Tyndall, but Barnes helped pull it out of the muck.
That’s exactly what Vitello can provide — a way out. Especially one for a program that has lingered in the doldrums over the past 14 years. And as he continues to stack wins and trips to the tournament, the talent will get better and the program will continue to grow.
It seems like he’s breaking records every year. First, it was the most wins for a head coach in their first season as mentioned above. This year, the Vols won their first 15 games, which was the best start in school history. He also tied a school record with 10 shutouts in 2019.
He’s sending kids to the majors, too. Seven players have been drafted in the majors, including six from last season.
Vol fans also have to love how Fulmer pounced on what I’m sure he saw as a prime opportunity to extend Vitello. Good college baseball coaches are very hard to find, so when you know you have one, you have to do everything in your power to keep them.
Fulmer’s obvious care for the baseball program came through in the move, as well. There have been doubts since his arrival concerning how much the other programs matter, but as this move shows — as well as some others that we’ve seen — he does in fact care about the well being of all involved within the athletic department.
But at the end of the day, it’s nice to see a program pick up the pieces and begin to compete again, a la the basketball team over the past few years. This program has been through a lot over the years, but maybe - just maybe - karma is starting to pay back the debt.