Perhaps is was Georgia's 2001 win over the Vols that vaulted Georgia over the Tennessee in the SEC East once and for all. Still, Tennessee's downward spiral started the season before in Athens.
For the first time in the modern SEC (since 1992 when the conference split into divisions) Georgia defeated Tennessee in 2000. The goal posts were ripped from Sanford Stadium and the hedges were destroyed in celebration that night. While Georgia was destroying it's own property the brand that was Tennessee football was in the process of self-destruction, too. From the moment the first fan jumped onto the floor at Sanford Stadium it was all down hill for Fulmer, but it was a very slow roll downhill. Sure, Tennessee would still win the Eastern Conference titles three times after 2000, but it became clear during that time that Georgia had past the Vols in the year-to-year rat race of the SEC.
Jim Donnan may not have been a coaching genius, but he did a pretty good job of starting to push the door closed on Vol recruiting in Georgia – Mark Richt slammed it shut. Donnan should get credit for that – he doesn't get credit for much.
Want to know why Fulmer and Tennessee just got a divorce? It's simple – recruiting.
With Mark Richt in Georgia – a once fertile land for the Vols to snatch talented players from – Fulmer had to go elsewhere to get top-level prospects. Alabama remained a place for the Vols to recruit, so did the Carolinas, but by the time Tommy Bowden became established at Clemson, Lou Holtz gave way to Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Butch Davis took the job in Chapel Hill, Fulmer was no longer able to waltz out of state to get recruits for the Big Orange. With the borders of Georgia and the Carolinas closed – or at least with significant road blocks in front of them – Tennessee would starve for talent.
Top Volunteer players have always come from out of state – that's the way Tennessee has always won. Consider Tennessee's 1998 national championship team – more than half of the significant players were from out of state:
Tennessee: Al Wilson, Chad Clifton, Cedric Wilson
Carolinas: Shawn Bryson, Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker
Georgia: Casey Coleman, Jamal Lewis, Deon Grant
Louisiana: Raynoch Thompson
Illinois: Dwayne Goodrich
Ohio: Peerless Price
Alabama: Jeff Hall
Florida: Travis Henry
Football talent is not something the state of Tennessee is well known for – particularly when compared to some of its neighbors. Unlike South Carolina – a state with two equally balanced BCS conference programs – Tennessee does not have to compete in state with any other major programs (Vandy doesn't put up much of a fight).
So in the end… is it good or bad for Georgia that Fulmer will no longer roam the sidelines in Knoxville? The answer, right now, is that Fulmer leaving does not help Georgia in the near future. A new head coach could not do worse recruiting in Georgia – Eric Berry and Chris Scott come to mind when thinking of significant Georgians who play for Tennessee – as their power in the state has really suffered since Mark Richt arrived.
Could that change with a new charismatic coach? It could, but even that seems unlikely now. What does Fulmer leaving mean for Georgia? Simply put that one of the few coaches with a winning record against these Dawgs will no longer coach against them – and that can't be all bad for those in red and black.