``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.''
Does Hamilton agree that the UT job is tougher than UT people think?
``I don't know,'' he said. ``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.''
Hamilton said there are a number of reasons why it's hard to hire a football coach. He knows how LSU and Alabama struggled to find the right guy when each wound up with the same guy – Nick Saban. Hamilton would like to see Fulmer succeed.
``That (finding a replacement for Fulmer) is not my goal,'' Hamilton said. ``I hate to even have this conversation in an in-depth manner. My goal is for Phillip Fulmer to write the end of his career story. He deserves to do that.''
To do that, Fulmer must win some more games, starting with South Carolina on Saturday night.
Based on conversations with sources, I'm convinced that Fulmer remains as UT's coach if the Vols win eight games, he's in jeopardy if he wins seven and he won't be back if he wins six.
Hamilton wouldn't get into the numbers game. He said UT historically has won 77 to 78 percent of its games, which equates to a 9-3 season. ``I want to win more than nine annually,'' Hamilton said. ``But you want to average at least nine. There may be years when we win one or two less and years when we win more than that.''
Hamilton said he received over 250 negative emails after Tennessee lost 59-20 at Florida. He got about half that many after the Vols fell 41-17 at Alabama. Hamilton said he won't make decisions based on emotion. But he did offer this.
``Decisions made out of emotion are different from being emotional about losses,'' Hamilton said. ``I wasn't very happy losing a rival game by 24 points.''
Hamilton said it was reasonable to think the Vols could lose to Cal, Florida and Alabama.
``But the nature in which we lost particularly at Florida and at Alabama, caused some heartburn,'' he said. ``But I continue to say and will continue to say, I'm not going to make a judgment call week to week. I think that's dangerous territory to get into in a leadership or management role. You have to look at things in total.''
If Fulmer is fired, his buyout is $4.675 million to be paid out over four years. The assistants' buyout would be about $2.8 million but that amount would be reduced if any assistant gets another job.
Does the buyout affect Hamilton's position on Fulmer?
``It does and it doesn't,'' Hamilton said. ``It does in the sense you're always trying to manage the program in a fiscally responsible manner. … Ultimately as it relates to the program and the direction, you have to make the best decision for the university overall, factoring in all factors.''
Hamilton said he thinks it's harder to hire a football coach than basketball coach because the pool of Division I coaches is over 330 compared to 119 in football.
Hamilton complimented Fulmer on the way he's run the program, represented the university, mixed with fans and donors and steered clear of NCAA violations.
``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.''
Hamilton said his decision regarding Fulmer won't be so much about finances or finding a replacement, but about whether he thinks Fulmer can win or compete for another SEC championship.
``I think that's the bottom line,'' Hamilton said. ``And I think that's the bottom line with any of our coaches.''