Fulmer Ouster Typical, Troubling

At many schools winning three out of four games for more than a decade and bringing home two conference titles and a National Championship gets a street named after you. In Knoxville, Peyton Manning and Tee Martin have streets named after them but Phillip Fulmer just gets to take the long way home.

After 17 years at the helm of the Tennessee football program and more than three decades of affiliation with the boys from Rocky Top Fulmer was dumped by the school he loves on Monday. He'll coach the three remaining games of the regular season and step aside with at least 150 wins and something close to a $6 million in severance pay. It's not quite a Wall Street bail out, but it'll do.

The culture of big time college sports has always been an intriguing mix of altruism, loyalty, mercenary behavior and back stabbing. Intercollegiate athletics strives to teach lessons of team work, dedication and perseverance. While those are noble and worthwhile goals, schools also deliver a horrendous message by moves like this. Tennessee is going to pay millions of dollars to an honest, decent person who has done nothing wrong except lose too many games.

It's more than a little ironic that Fulmer ascended to the head coaching position in a way that made his predecessor Johnny Majors feel betrayed. Now Fulmer gets similar treatment from the school he served since he graduated high school 35 years ago.

I have real problems with what Tennessee did, but I also understand it. If you look at the big picture you see the 150 wins I mentioned above, the three SEC Titles and the 1998 perfect season and you are impressed. However recent history hasn't been as impressive. Tennessee is one loss away from its first seven-loss season in 31 years and its second losing season in four. Fulmer last won the SEC in that 1998 campaign, losing three SEC Title Games since then. In the last three-plus seasons Tennessee is 27-20 while divisional rivals Florida and Georgia have soared past the Vols in the SEC pecking order and on the recruiting trail. The Vols are closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the SEC, last season's SEC East Title notwithstanding.

It will cost the Vols about millions to pay off Fulmer and all of his assistants and that doesn't even take into account the lucrative deal they have to offer their next coach. You'd have a hard time convincing me the next guy will win more than Fulmer did in the last 17 years. But it probably won't be too difficult to win more than Fulmer has in the last four campaigns.

What have you done for me lately, indeed.


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