Fulmer Feeling Heat in Knoxville

He's the dean of SEC Football coaches, earning his first wins back in 1992. He's won 149 games, two SEC Championships and a National Title. And Phillip Fulmer is also sitting on the hottest seat in the SEC. The Vols' loss at Georgia Saturday dropped the boys from Rocky Top to 2-4 overall and a mind-numbing 0-3 in the SEC.

After winning 10 games in 2003, Tennessee is a rather pedestrian 26-18 over the last three-plus seasons and an even worse 14-14 against SEC teams. The folks in Knoxville are not happy.

One of the state's premier columnists has joined the chorus of those saying it's time for someone else to lead the Vols' program. That just adds to what Ron Zook would term a lot of "noise in the system".

It's not just that Tennessee has not won the SEC since 1998 that has fans so dissatisfied with Fulmer and his staff. It's more the realization that the once powerful Vols have fallen way behind key rivals Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The Vols were embarrassed by the Gators and Crimson Tide last year by a combined score of 100-37, but thanks to a big win over Georgia and nail biters in their other SEC East games they made it to Atlanta to play for the SEC Title. They lost a competitive game to LSU giving cause for optimism this year. That optimism is gone after losses to Florida, Auburn and Georgia in which the Vols scored a total of 32 points. Their new offense has been a little better than Auburn's but not much.

Buyout is Prohibitive

I don't know if Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton is considering a change as more and more Vols fans show up for games dressed as empty seats, but if he is it won't be easy to do. Fulmer is in the first year of a new seven year contract that pays him almost $3 million a year. The deal reportedly has a buyout provision that would cost Tennessee $6.8 million this year. That's an incredible amount of money for a school to consider raising to replace a coach who has won ten or more games in nine of his 15 full seasons and has won three out of four games over his career.

The problem is that Fulmer and his program appears to have hit the wall. Yes, they've made it to the SEC Title game three times in the last seven years, but they lost all three. Tennessee's recruiting has seemed to go downhill in recent years, showing the same inconsistency on signing day that they've shown on game day. The Vols' 2007 class was ranked No. 4 in the country. However, in 2006 (No. 24) and 2008 (No. 35) Tennessee's recruiting classes finished way behind all their rivals in the Scout.com rankings. Anyone who has seen Tennessee in person the last few years would acknowledge that Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama all had more talent.

I don't think Tennessee will try to make a change, nor should they. Phillip Fulmer is a good man and a solid coach. While his program is now looking up at SEC East powers Georgia and Florida that can change pretty quickly. And there's no excuse -- none -- for a school to pay a successful, honest coach $6.8 million dollars not to coach just because he's not winning enough.

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