Even though Tennessee is coming off a 10-win season (10-4) in '07 things have not gone well for the Vols lately. Tennessee has just a 24-14 record in the last three years and had lost at least three games for six straight years and eight of the last nine. No, those aren't terrible numbers, not at all. But they're not what Tennessee fans got used to when the Vols were battling the Gators to be among the nation's best from '95 thru '98 (45-5). During that time Florida served as the Vols nemesis, hanging three of the five losses on Fulmer and company.
Tennessee has not won the SEC Championship since Fulmer's 1998 squad ran the table for a 13-0 record including a Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State. It wasn't his best team, just his most successful one. At that point the best college football programs in the country were Florida, FSU, Tennessee, Miami and Nebraska.
Ten years later only the Gators remain an elite program, while the others are striving to return to the level of their former glory. For Tennessee that climb seems to be a pretty steep one considering their season opening loss to UCLA, a team that was blown out by Brigham Young 59-0. Add to that the surging program at Georgia, and Tennessee has a long way to go to reclaim the top spot in the SEC East.
Or do they?
It's easy to forget that it was Tennessee – not Florida or Georgia – that represented the SEC East in the Championship Game last December. The Vols survived late season scares from Vanderbilt and Kentucky to reach Atlanta for the fifth time in 11 years. That's more SEC Title Game appearances than any other school has in that period.
But the bottom line is Tennessee lost its last three trips to Atlanta and has gone since 1998 without winning an SEC Title. Fulmer has posted an impressive 148-46 mark in Knoxville and has led the Vols to 15 bowl games, winning eight of them. Yet you won't see his name high on any list of the "best coaches in the SEC". National title winners Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Nick Saban are always listed higher as are Mark Richt and Tommy Tuberville. And then you have the Head Ball Coach as well.
I have always felt Phillip Fulmer deserves more respect than he has gotten. If the guy weighed 50 pounds less he would be more respected, but that's kind of the nature of our society. He has only once failed to guide his team to a bowl game, has won two SEC titles and a national title and has posted nine 10-plus win seasons. But right now all most people see is a guy who hasn't won the SEC in a decade and seems to be losing ground to his two biggest rivals in the SEC East. That's what he's done for the Vols lately.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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