Fulmer Getting a Raise

The reigning dean of SEC football coaches is apparently getting a contract extension. The Nashville Tennessean reports that Philip Fulmer will get a seven year deal worth somewhere between $2.5-3 million per year very soon. The question is who will be happier with the news when it becomes official - Volunteer fans or others around the SEC?

The timing of this move is interesting. While UT AD Mike Hamilton had indicated Fulmer would likely get a contract extension as a result of winning the SEC East in 2007, a lot has changed since then. Fulmer lost offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to the Duke head coaching job and replaced him with Richmond head coach Dave Clawson. There are three other new offensive assistants as well. Considering the difficulties, the Volunteer attack had after Cutcliffe's first departure (to Ole Miss as head coach) wouldn't it make sense to see if Fulmer can establish an effective scheme this time before giving him a commitment for seven more seasons?

The most puzzling aspect of this reported new agreement is the salary increase. Fulmer's current contract pays him an average of $2.05 million per year. Why boost his salary by over half a million dollars when no other program would have interest in paying him anywhere close to that? Fulmer will be 58 years old this season. He has not won an SEC title since 1998, the same year he won his lone national championship. Where would any need to reward him or any special sense of increased demand for his services come from?

Tennessee was destroyed last season by arguably its two biggest rivals in Florida and Alabama. Of their ten wins, two came in overtime against South Carolina and Kentucky while another was a one-point victory over Vanderbilt. When Fulmer's Volunteers were at their best, games against those teams were walkovers for them. Being in "down to the wire" battles with them regularly is now worth a big raise in Knoxville?

This year's SEC may be the deepest collection of head coaching talent any conference has ever seen. There are four former NFL head coaches in the league. Five coaches (Fulmer among them) have national championships in Division I-A, and Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson has a I-AA title win on his resume. That's not even counting elite coaches like Tommy Tuberville and Mark Richt who easily could have national championships as well. If the SEC's coaches were being ranked based on performance in this decade and their future potential, it's hard to imagine Fulmer being higher than sixth or seventh at best.

Fulmer's not a terrible coach, but he's shown little to indicate he can return the Volunteers to the heights their program saw in the mid- to late-90s. Tennessee's 8-7 on the road the past three years and hasn't lost fewer than three games in a season since 2001. If they need extra cash to finish this puzzling contract extension, odds are some other SEC school boosters would be willing to kick in to keep Fulmer in Knoxville longer. If you're a Vol fan, that's not good news at all.

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