<dd>Perhaps no coach will do as much for Tennessee's football program as General Robert Reese Neyland but current coach Phillip Fulmer is giving it a good old college try. Furthermore, as amazing as General Neyland's coaching career was at Tennessee, Coach Fulmer is actually on pace to meet or exceed many of the accomplishments of his gridiron predecessors.<p>
General Neyland inherited a program with almost as many losses as wins (129-91-20 .579). What he did, was just North of amazing, transforming a team that could not beat the likes of Vanderbilt and Sewanee into a national powerhouse. Granted, Vanderbilt was much better back then but for the sake of "now-a-days" perceptions, it just sounds better for our story – now let's proceed.
Captain Neyland began his career as head coach of the Volunteers in 1926. Did I say Captain Neyland? You bet I did! Robert R. Neyland achieved his military coaching monikers meritoriously in the service of our great country advancing from Captain, to Major all the way to General during the course of his three-pronged 4-decade coaching tenure. Coach Neyland, not only served his country well but his University also advancing the Tennessee Vols football program to a mark of (338-132-34, .774) by the time he retired in 1952.
No story about great Tennessee head coaches would be complete if we failed to mention John Barnhill, the career winning percentage leader with a mark of .846. This occurred during a period of 4 seasons between Coach Neyland's 2nd & 3rd campaigns. Barnhill established his .846 career winning percentage by amassing 32 wins, as opposed to 5 losses and 2 ties. And of course, there is Johnny Majors who with 116 victories is second only to General Neyland in all-time wins as a Tennessee, head football coach.
Phillip Fulmer, who had a 3-game stint as interim head coach during a Johnny Major illness, lead the Vols to a perfect 3 consecutive wins and was named permanent head coach prior to the bowl game during the same year in 1992. When Fulmer took the reigns, the program was in good repair but at .684 (627-275-53), although it was no where near the .774 of Neyland's era. Still, Fulmer has advanced an already good .684 to an even better .698 (718-295-53) by the end of 2001.
Coach Fulmer is on the verge of several UT coaching milestones. Records will begin yielding to his success this season. During the 2002 season, he will most likely see his 100th win, in as few as 120 games with Arkansas on October the 5th serving as the primary target.
Trailing by only 21 games, Coach Fulmer can better Johnny Major's 2nd place 116 wins in as little as 2 seasons with no more than 2 losses each.
To reach or exceed John Barnhill's career winning percentage mark of .846, it would take Coach Fulmer 3 seasons of no more than one loss each.
Coach Phillip Fulmer trails General Neyland by only 78 games or an optimistic 6 seasons of near perfection, a feat that would also erase that scant .003 winning percentage advantage held by Neyland.
Coach Fulmer's body of work is yet to be complete. However, if we examine the career's of both men through only their first 115 games and use that as our sample information then there are a number of similarities and parallels in their coaching efforts.
Overall winning percentage:
Neyland 0.861, 95-12-8
Coach R.R. Neyland's career numbers.
Overall - 1926-52 0.829, 173-31-12.
First campaign 1926-34 - 0.892, 76-7-5.
Second campaign - 1936-40 0.840, 43-7-3.
Third campaign - 1946-52 0.747, 54-17-4.
Fulmer 0.826, 95-20-0
Winning percentage peak (min. 5 yrs.)
Neyland 0.945, 59-2-3
General Neyland's highest overall winning percentage came with
a win over Mississippi State on November 5th 1932, 7 games into
his 7th season as the Vols head coach.
Fulmer 0.861, 68-11-0
Coach Phillip Fulmer reached the pinnacle of his career, 1 win
into his 8th season with a victory over Wyoming on September 4th 1999 –
this following the 1998 National Championship.
SEC winning percentage:
Fulmer 0.818, 63-14-0
This includes 3 games played for conference championships
since the SEC re-alignment in 1992.
Neyland 0.787, 62-15-5
The first 7 years of Coach Neyland's Tennessee career were
before the SEC was formed in 1933. Prior to that the Vols
played in the Southern conference.
Fulmer 0.600, 6-4-0
Coach Fulmer has led his teams to 10 consecutive bowl games.
Neyland 0.286, 2-5-0
Over his career, General Neyland took his Vol teams to 7 bowl
games but could only muster an uncharacteristic 2 wins.
Fulmer: 2 SEC Titles
Coach Fulmer has lead the Vols to 2 conference titles,
one in 1997 and the other in 1998.
Neyland: 2 Southern Conference Titles
Coach Neyland and his Vols spent many of their first years
as members of the Southern Conference. General Neyland
won 2 Southern Conference titles but no SEC titles during
his first 115 games Ultimately, coach Neyland racked up
6-SEC championships to go along with his 2 Southern Conference
championships during his three-pronged tenure,
which spanned 21 seasons.
National Championships: (consensus)
Fulmer: 1 National Championship
Neyland: 0 National Championships
Coach Neyland would later win a consensus National Championship
in 1951 for his 20th season, 204 games into his career.
He also produced 3 other teams that were named National Champions
by at least one of the polls in his day.
1938 11-0, 1939 10-1 and 1940 10-1.
Neyland: 23 consecutive victories.
Dec 9th Auburn 1939 – Nov 30th Vanderbilt 1940
Fulmer: 14 consecutive victories.
Sep 5th Syracuse 1998 – Sep 5th Wyoming 1999
Neyland: 33 of 34
Nov 25th Kentucky 1937 – Nov 30th Vanderbilt 1940
Fulmer: 23 of 24
Oct 4th Ole Miss 1997 – Sep 5th Wyoming 1999
In his third season, General Neyland delivered a victory over then arch rival Vanderbilt ending an 8 game winless streak and a Commodore dominance that spanned decades. In fact, during his entire 26-year tenure as the coach of the Vols., Neyland only lost to Vanderbilt 3 times.
Coach Fulmer; in like fashion also in his third full season as Tennessee's head coach, delivered a victory over current arch rival Alabama ending an 8 game winless streak to the Tide. With that faithful victory in 1995, Coach Fulmer and the Vols have reeled off 7 straight against the Crimson Tide.
Team Milestone Victories:
Win Opponent Score Year
150 Washington & Lee 26-7 1928
200 Mississippi 27-0 1934
Win Opponent Score Year
650 Arkansas 49-31 1995
700 Southern Miss 19-16 2000
Personal Milestone Victories:
Win Game Opponent Score Year
1 1 Carson-Newman 13-0 1926
25 28 Florida 13-12 1928
50 55 Carson-Newman 31-0 1931
75 87 Kentucky 19-0 1934
100 120 NC State 13-0 1939 (13th season)
Win Game Opponent Score Year
1 1 Southwestern LA 38-3 1992
25 32 Mississippi ST 52-14 1994
50 60 Southern Miss 44-20 1997
75 88 Kentucky 56-21 1999
100? 120? Could happen in 2002 (10th season) with 5th opponent: Arkansas
Who is better – Neyland or Fulmer? If we just look at the numbers then a slight case can be made in favor of The General. He dressed some of the most feared and respected defensive units ever to play the game, including the 1939 squad that holds the distinction of being the last division 1-A team to complete a regular season without yielding a single point to opponents.
On the other hand, you have coach Fulmer whose 1993 team set a new school scoring standard in his first full year. Coach Fulmer has also led every team he has had into post season bowl action including two title games.
I won't even try to present one as a winner. Both have been true Volunteers and answered the call of the Tennessee fans to Win Win Win! Each in his own way has contributed immeasurably to the rich history and tradition that is TENNESSEE FOOBALL.
Who has been the better coach? Perhaps that is a question best answered with another question – Does it really matter? Any Vol fan worth his or her Orange should be proud to claim them both.