|Fulmer’s time may be nearing an end |
|Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 4:52 pm |
| Fulmer’s career nearing the end |
Reading between the lines last week, one could just imagine that Tennessee head football coach Phil Fulmer was wishing and hoping for another one of those job-saving upsets over a favored foe.
After all, his team pulled a rabbit out of the hat against Georgia last season and then was just good enough to squeak past South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt and into the Southeastern Conference title game. Catch that lightning in a bottle one more time against second-ranked Alabama and his job would be safe for another year.
But there are no more rabbits in the old top hat, no magic dust to sprinkle and no more SEC championship games in Fulmer’s future. Fulmer is now 1-11 in his last 12 games against top ten foes and his conference mark since 2005 is a disturbing 15-15.
His teams are beset by crippling penalties and special teams breakdowns. He brought in a new offensive coordinator, but to the untrained but very experienced eye, it looks like the same old plays out of the same old formations with nothing really new to offer except for a couple of original excuses.
They had a reunion in Knoxville last weekend. It was a gala affair attended by many members of that legendary 1998 national championship football team. Under the surface, it was noted by some that it was a gathering of Fulmer’s very last SEC championship squad. That is sad but also very true. The clock has run out on the old offensive lineman from Winchester. No signed letters of support from former players or intimidating rants from a big money booster or two will save him this time.
The Volunteer nation is much like Popeye the old Sailor Man, they have seen all they can stands and they can’t stands no more. Fan apathy is scary bad. Many sold their tickets to Alabama faithful last weekend and estimates indicate that as many as 25 to 30 thousand Tide supporters were in Neyland Stadium to see their No. 2 ranked squad roll to an easy win over out-classed and inept Tennessee.
In a perfect world, Fulmer could have rode off into the sunset with an SEC title and ECS bowl game as his last two appearances on the sidelines. But nothing comes that easy in the dog eat dog Southeastern Conference meat grinder. It is survival of the fittest, hit the other guys in the mouth or be prepared to take a haymaker upside your own noggin. Fulmer’s decision to stay past his prime and try and hang onto an 80s and 90s brand of football has guaranteed that he will finish his career at UT in a downward spiral. The Vols are no longer one of the marquee teams in the conference. They must go 3-1 in November to even limp into an insignificant bowl game with a lousy 6-6 record.
With the old ball coach, Steve Spurrier laying in wait in Columbia, this thing could get worse before it gets better. The Gamecocks will be coming off a bye week, they will be rested and ready to try and put away their wounded prey. While Spurrier may feel sorry for Fulmer, he will show no mercy. He is close to having his guys bowl eligible and he knows how to scheme against Fulmer and Chavis about as well as any coach in the business. And while the Gamecocks offense has sputtered this year, SC boasts one of the most rugged defenses in the league. Bad news indeed for the disjointed, out of sync and downright bad UT offensive group.
Wheels are already turning
Reports from various and quite reliable sources indicate that the apparatus is already in place to first seek and then hire a replacement for the embattled Fulmer. We are hearing that the people who are leading this endeavor already have targeted a coach and may have even already spoken with his agent. Since this coach is actively heading up a football team right now, we don’t expect any public pronouncements within the next few weeks.
Some have suggested that if Fulmer loses to Spurrier, that he should be immediately relieved of duty as the head coach at Tennessee. This will not happen, it would be rude and disrespectful to a man who has given his adult life to this university. He has been stubborn, egotistical and resistant to change, but these things do not rise to the level of humiliating him by removing him before the conclusion of the current football season.
The hope here is that Fulmer will wake up on a cool, clear, crisp morning within the next couple of weeks, drink a hot cup of coffee, look at his wife and say, “It’s over, I am going to announce my retirement at the next press conference.” If he does this, his place will be secure among the all-time legends of Tennessee football. He will not pass the immortal Gen. Neyland in all-time wins, but that is a good thing. He will, however, be remembered as a man who coached a football juggernaut in the 1990s. He will be honored as a coach who roared rough shod through all comers from 1995 to 1998, posting a 45-5 mark that may never, ever be duplicated again by a UT football coach.
If he does not elect to bow out gracefully, well then things could get ugly. Let’s hope for his sake and the sake of his legacy that he will decide to do the right thing, the good thing, the best thing for all concerned. Coach, if you love Tennessee, it’s time to bid a fond farewell to your Paradise Lost.