Fulmer just misses 'jerk' list

One way us media types fill website space during the dog days of summer is by compiling lists. They're interesting, entertaining and so arbitrary that debate is usually sparked and the author's sanity is routinely questioned.

I've compiled and posted dozens of lists myself. None of them, I must admit, were quite as controversial as the one posted recently by Mike Freeman, national columnist for cbs.sportsline.com. Freeman decided to rank the "Top 50 sports jerks of all time."

That's a great topic with endless possibilities, for sure. After perusing Freeman's list, however, I noticed a category called "Just missing out on the Jerkitude 50." The first name in that group belonged to Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer.

Phillip Fulmer ... a jerk? In the state of Alabama, certainly. In the other 49 states, however, that might be a tough sell.

This is a solid family man, with a devoted wife and three gorgeous daughters. This is a man who carefully avoids crude language ("We're working like heck to get better" is his favorite line). This is a man who contributes considerable time, energy and money to the Jason Foundation, an enterprise devoted to the prevention of teen suicide.

Fulmer has his faults, of course. Like all football coaches, he is somewhat paranoid. He is not a dynamic speaker. He weighs his words so carefully that many of the interviews he gives sound pretty much the same. And he certainly isn't winning as regularly in recent years as he did from 1995-98.

Does that make him a jerk?

Freeman prefaces his list by explaining that "factors such as arrests, treatment of fans, treatment of fellow athletes, treatment of women, drug use, treatment of the media, involvement in scandal and overall respect for their sport, among other criteria, are all part of developing the list and assigning a jerkitude score."

Although Fulmer didn't crack the top 50, two sports figures with ties to the Southeastern Conference did. Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley is tabbed No. 50 for being a "verbally abusive" bully and Georgia mascot Uga V checks in at No. 39 for once trying to bite an Auburn player in a very private area.

Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight, who was contacted in connection with the Tennessee vacancy that Bruce Pearl wound up filling two years ago, is No. 7 on Freeman's jerk list, along with the notation: "Could arguably be in the top five. Has redefined the word jerk like few others."

Freeman's top five, incidentally, is as follows:

5. Robert Irsay, the Baltimore Colts owner who abruptly moved the team overnight

4. Tonya Harding, best known for her malice toward fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan

3. Ill-tempered baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb

2. Jailed former NFL player Rae Carruth

1. O.J. Simpson, who needs no introduction

Making the honorable mention list, along with Fulmer, were such SEC notables as former University of Georgia basketball star Vernon Maxwell and former University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath.

So, let the debating begin.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories