SCOTT: Is it time for Fulmer to go?

There are a multitude of reasons why many Tennessee fans believe the time has come for a coaching change.

--Embattled coach Phil Fulmer won a national championship in 1998 and took the Vols to two consecutive Fiesta Bowls following the 1998 and '99 seasons. Since then Tennessee hasn't returned to a Bowl Championship Series bowl.

--The Vols are 19-23 against ranked teams since their national championship season and just 4-7 in their past 11 games against top-25 teams.

--The Vols haven't won the SEC since 1998 and haven't finished in the final top 10 since 2001. In 2002 and 2005, they weren't even included in the final rankings. In 2006, they finished 25th in the final poll.

--For five consecutive years and seven of the past eight Tennessee has lost at least three games.

--Since 1998 the Vols are 2-5 in bowl games, with all five losses coming by 10 points or more.

--The overall level of coaching in the SEC has never been higher and Fulmer is 5-8 against South Carolina 's Steve Spurrier, 0-3 vs. Florida 's Urban Meyer, 1-3 vs. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, 3-4 against Georgia 's Mark Richt and 1-2 against Alabama 's Nick Saban. Since 2000, 14 new coaches have been hired by SEC programs. Fulmer has lost to nine them of them.

--The Vols are 7-6 in their past 13 games. At 5-3 this season, they could still finish just .500 overall on the heals of a 5-6 finish in 2005 and a 9-4 record in 2006.

--The Vols also closed out their 2006 season with two wins in the last five games, including losses to LSU, Arkansas and Penn State . Then they opened their current season with blowout losses to Cal and Florida among their first three games.

--Since Nov. 4, 2006 , their victories have come against Vanderbilt. Kentucky , Southern Miss, Arkansas State , No. 12 Georgia, Mississippi State and ... drum roll please, South Carolina in a 27-24 overtime victory last Saturday.

"A lesser team with a lesser spirit would have lost that game tonight," Fulmer said.

The South Carolina win, as ugly as it was at times, still provides some evidence that Fulmer and his staff aren't totally lost or completely incapable of preparing the Vols for a big game.

"It was good to hear some of them say, 'Coach we got it done tonight,'" defensive coordinator John Chavis said after the South Carolina game. "This team will fight. There's no doubt about that.

"I don't ever answer critics, and there's a lot of people who said we threw in the towel even before this game. This team will fight, and this is a proud program. I think people need to take notice of that. This team's not going to lay down and hasn't laid down."

Yes, the Vols are confounding, but name one SEC team that isn't at this point.

Georgia lost 16-12 at home to South Carolina , won 26-23 in overtime at Alabama , got whipped 35-14 at Tennessee and then beat Florida 42-30 in Jacksonville .

Alabama beat Arkansas in the final seconds, lost consecutive games to Georgia and Florida State , barely hung on against Houston and Ole Miss and then dominated Tennessee 41-17.

And those are just of the many examples available. In the midst of increasing uncertainty in college football, not just the SEC, Fulmer also provides a certainty that very few coaches can bring to a program. Since he arrived at Tennessee as a freshman offensive lineman in 1968, Fulmer has spent 34 of the past 40 years with the Vols, with the past 28 as an assistant, offensive coordinator, interim coach and head coach.

In a business where most coaches have no prior history with their school or city, Fulmer is still coaching at his alma mater and isn't going anywhere – unless they make him leave.

"I understand the passion that people have for this program," Fulmer said. "I love the history of this program. There's not a better job for me."

How long will he get to keep that job? Who knows? Should Tennessee keep him or fire him? That's for others to decide. Supporters and critics can both present a solid argument for and against Fulmer.

But there are other things to consider, primarily: who would replace Fulmer? Is Spurrier going to leave South Carolina ? Is Saban leaving Alabama ? Is Tuberville coming from Auburn ? Richt from Georgia ? How about someone from across the country, like Cal 's Jeff Tedford?

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton has said repeatedly he won't make any decisions about the future until after the season but he did create quite a stir last week when he spoke more in-depth with longtime SEC and Tennessee analyst Jimmy Hyams on Knoxville's WNML radio.

"Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for," Hamilton said. "It's not as easy as you may think. When I've talked to national media members and folks in the business, what I hear them saying is, Tennessee is not as great a job as maybe we think it is because living in a state with 5.6 million people doesn't give you as big of a recruiting base. And it's certainly tough being in the SEC and the SEC East as well. ...

"I don't know. I'm too close to the forest sometimes. Most people think Tennessee is one of the storied programs in college football. They do think it is a great school with great fans and great tradition – but perhaps not as easy a sale as some here might think. I think it's the greatest place in America , but I'm in the middle of it and it would be natural for me to be biased – and I am."

Sometimes that bias makes it difficult for people to see the big picture.

"Phillip has done a tremendous job," Hamilton said. "Maybe somewhat of what we're suffering now is familiarity sometimes breeds content. You've got to remember, this guy, who is a native son, has coached here 30 some-odd years. He has run our program in a first-class manner. He has stayed out of the way of NCAA violations. He cares about young men. I think there is something to be said for that."

There's something to be said for a fresh approach. There's also something to be said for stability. It's a tough call for everyone involved and one Fulmer is trying his best to manage without losing his mind – or his sense of humor.

After the South Carolina game Fulmer said during his pre-game talk with the team, "We had a nice laugh about the grim reaper being at my house. They didn't know whether to laugh or not. It broke the ice."

For now, the best thing Fulmer can do is win. His Vols did that Saturday against South Carolina , and regardless of the lack of style points they now control their destiny in the SEC East. They are in second place at 3-2, behind Georgia at 4-2, but they own a victory over Georgia in case a tie-breaker is needed. The Vols control their own destiny.

Fulmer doesn't, but the Vols do. And that, as coaches say, is all Fulmer can control at this point.

"I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the players. I enjoy the people," Fulmer said. "You take the ups and downs as you have. We've had a lot more ups and downs. You ignore what you need to ignore and worry about what you can control and take that approach. But I still enjoy the game very much, and the people."


Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and Tiger Rag's featured SEC expert. Reach him at

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