What's Phil Fulmer Doing?

Phillip Fulmer was due in Birmingham this week to answer questions about his team for the upcoming season, just like 11 other coaches he calls peers. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Wynfrey Hotel. Phillip Fulmer went from Big Orange to Big Yellow, and that doesn't mean he decided to imitate Jimmy Rane.

Stories first broke last week that Tennessee Head Football Coach Phil Fulmer might be the victim of attacks in Birmingham from enraged Alabama fans upset that Fulmer had played too much of a role in Alabama's most recent NCAA probation. Rumors arose that Fulmer wouldn't make the trip, but they died down quickly when everyone realized how ridiculous it would be for a head coach to miss SEC Media Days.

Lo and behold, Fulmer isn't coming to Birmingham. The reason for his absence is either fear of attack, or fear that a lawyer might serve him with a subpoena so he can explain to a jury why he was more concerned with playing the part of detective rather than football coach.

But if it was fear of attack that led Fulmer to miss Media Days–his supervisors swear it wasn't, but nonetheless, the stories had made it out the previous week that violence was a consideration and those stories came out of Knoxville–then Fulmer followed up his questionable ethics with a demonstation of cowardice. He would not attend, but he would send a couple of his players anyway.

How about that logic? "Guys, I'm too chicken to fight this battle, but I've got no problem putting you in the line of fire."

Never send a boy to do a man's job–unless you're Phillip Fulmer.

It's behavior like this that an ever increasing number of Volunteers fans point to when they complain of problems coming from Knoxville. Even excepting all the lawsuits and all the rumors about Fulmer's involvement, Fulmer was coming under fire for subpar on-field performances over the last couple of seasons, punctuated by two poor showings in bowl games in which his teams looked like they'd rather be riding the Space Mountain roller coaster at DisneyWorld than playing football. The program is splintered from within, with things taking on a "Spy vs. Spy" feel, particularly with Fulmer's gumshoe tendencies coming to light.

Now, Fulmer will have to contend with rival recruiters on the recruiting trail who will no doubt point out not only the decline of the UT football program in the last two years, but also Fulmer's ducking of SEC Media Days, and especially his decision to send players anyway. It's not easy to convince kids you'd go to war for them when you've already proven that you would not.

What it all adds up to for Tennessee for the coming football season is a ton of distractions that will make dealing with the on-field problems that much more difficult. This is a team capable of winning every game it plays, but only if UT coaches can solve the mystery at quarterback first. That's hard enough if you're completely concentrated on the task at hand, but as Mike DuBose proved in 1999 and 2000 with an affair and an NCAA investigation on his plate, it's virtually impossible to do when there are more distractions off the field than on it.

In the meantime, Fulmer will keep ducking lawyers, issuing contrived press statements that read like the NCAA Committee on Infractions' Alabama report all over again, and failing to do his real job–coaching his team and being accountable to the public.

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