Fulmer to get extension

After the 2003 regular season, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton gave Phillip Fulmer a raise and an extension before the Peach Bowl.

Ooops.

No. 6 Tennessee lost 27-14 to Clemson and the second-guessing began.

Hamilton said he wouldn't make that mistake again – that he would wait until after the bowl game to decide Phillip Fulmer's contractual fate.

But Hamilton broke that pledge recently, saying Fulmer would get an extension and a raise. Why?

``First and foremost, I think he deserves it, winning the (SEC East) championship,'' Hamilton said.

``Secondly, you alluded to the fact there might be some dissension among the fan base and I need to make sure folks understand where I am with Phillip. He's our coach and he's going to be our coach for the foreseeable future.

``That's particularly critical as we go into a very key recruiting time with official visitors in the month of December and January. These kids coming in with their parents need to know our administration is solidly behind the coach. And we believe he will accomplish the goals we set forth for the program.''

Some believe a letter sent by John Thornton, a former Board of Trustees member who is a big donor and a close friend of Fulmer's, prompted Hamilton to act as he did.

I called Thornton. He said he didn't want the letter to be made public, but he did express a concern that leaving Fulmer hanging could hurt recruiting. He also said he didn't believe his letter had an impact on Hamilton's decision.

Hamilton said the same thing.

``No, no,'' Hamilton said. ``You can go down and look at my desk and my email. I've got letters and emails from all different sorts of people saying all different kinds of things.

``In the end what has to happen as athletic director is you have to make decisions that you feel like are best for the program and go where your heart is. I just feel like this is the right thing to do and the right time. I feel like Phillip is positioned to do the things we want to have done in the program.''

That is win the East Division, win the SEC Championship and compete for a BCS bowl berth and a national championship.

Fulmer hasn't won the SEC title since 1998, although he's been to the conference championship game three times since then – 2001, 2004, 2007. He's made the title game five times in 11 years. No other SEC program has done that.

Yet, Fulmer has now gone nine years without a SEC ring.

Still, Hamilton has deemed that a nine-win season and an SEC East Division title merits a reward. He said Fulmer will get a one-year extension, taking him to seven years.

``I think a seven-year contract is very generous in terms of number of years,'' Hamilton said. ``I don't ever see it going more than that. Any decision as it relates to compensation will be made over the next several weeks.''

Fulmer makes $2.05 million annually. He hasn't received a raise since winning the Cotton Bowl following the 2004 season.

Hamilton said he will take into consideration the fact that Fulmer hasn't had a raise in two years and the market value. In the SEC, Alabama coach Nick Saban makes $4 million a year, Florida's Urban Meyer over $3 million and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville is at about $2.6 million with an annual built in raise of $200,000.

According to Fulmer's contract, Fulmer and Hamilton are required to meet by Dec. 15 to review the season.

``Whether or not we flush out completely what that's going to look like, I don't know,'' Hamilton said.

``He is absolutely committed to recruiting to the level we want him to recruit. He needs the energy from this as it relates to that. I know what his goals are from a career standpoint and how much longer he wants to coach. He wants to beat (General) Neyland's record for most wins at Tennessee and those kinds of things. And we're going to try to give him the opportunity to do that.''

Hamilton was asked if he felt midseason rumors about Fulmer's future were hurting recruiting.

``I've never had that question from a recruit's parents, OK, but I didn't want it to be a distraction,'' Hamilton said. ``I know that any time there's any indication of something like that, opposing coaches might look at that as blood in the water. So the moment that becomes an opportunity to negative recruit, they're going to try to jump on that – right, wrong or indifferent – and I think if we can mitigate that or stop that, we need to try to do that.

``Again, Phillip Fulmer is our coach and he will be our coach. If we can deal with that so recruits' parents and recruits don't have those questions, it will help us as we try to close deals on some guys as we go into February.''

Hamilton hopes UT fans will show support in the Outback Bowl similar to the showing at the Georgia Dome, where about 70 percent of the fans wore orange.

``I think this team has shown that it is worthy of the fan's support,'' Hamilton said. ``These are good kids.

``In locker room (after the SEC title game), there was a tremendous amount of emotion over having lost the ballgame. They expected to win. That's the kind of attitude I think they'll take to Tampa as well.''


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