``We may look at a couple of unique ideas of how we might mold or change the contracts and those discussions are preliminary at best.''
Hamilton has already said Fulmer will get a one-year extension. Fulmer's annual pay is $2.05 million. Some UT insiders feel Fulmer will get a raise to between $2.3-2.5 million. That could vary based on the salaries being paid to some coaches around the country. Three SEC coaches – Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Tommy Tuberville – make at least $2.8 million.
While Hamilton felt it was important in December to announce Fulmer would get a raise and extension for recruiting purposes, he does not think pinpointing the amount of the raise now would impact recruiting.
Fulmer recently hired three new offensive coaches. He's got one more vacancy to fill – tight ends.
Hamilton said he shared a list of assistants he thought Fulmer should consider.
``But in the end, I'm a firm believer the head coach should chose the assistants and the coordinators because ultimately, that's who they've got to go to war with every day. I've always felt you hold the head coach accountable and you let them make the right kind of hires.
``You set the stage for the kind of person you want them to hire, someone with integrity and people that have abided by NCAA rules, people that understand the complexity of college athletes and what it takes to win at our level. Ultimately, that's Phillip's hire. My role is to support that and make sure he has the resources necessary to hire that kind of person.''
``What I talked to him about was, let's hire the best possible coach and manage it within reason. If you feel you have to do something more significant than what you or I anticipate, you need to come to me and let me know and we'll address that.''
Hamilton said he was not concerned that two Tennessee position coaches – Kurt Roper and Matt Luke – left for Duke to coach under David Cutcliffe. He said they were relationship driven and involved promotions. Gerald Harrison left UT after about 10 years to be head of football operations, along with a huge raise.
Last year, UT paid its assistant coaches $1.72 million. Duke has given Cutcliffe a budget of over $2.1 million for assistants. How could Duke pay assistants more than UT?
Hamilton said UT was already headed in the direction of making financial adjustments to assistants. He doesn't yet know what that figure will be. He did offer this insight.
``The thing we're having to deal with at a place like Tennessee is, we're clearly responsible for generating all the revenue to cover our expenses,'' Hamilton said. ``Let's say Duke gave David $2 million for an assistant coaches' pool and he's getting $1.5 million (annual salary) like the media has speculated, and Duke is selling four season tickets for $199. You can't justify that from a pure revenue generating standpoint in a stadium that seats 35-40,000.
``So what they have decided is to make an institutional commitment – not an athletic department commitment – to football success at Duke.
``At Tennessee, our mandate is: You will make budget and generate revenue to pay for all expenses. We have to be judicious somewhat in that, but at the same time realizing football is the engine that drives the financial train here. In our $80 million budget, you can make a pretty valid argument through direct and indirect means that football is responsible for upwards of 85 percent of the revenue generated at Tennessee.''
This past season, Tennessee played for an SEC championship for the fifth time in 11 years. It won 10 games and the East Division title and finished No. 12 in the nation. But it failed to win the SEC for the ninth straight season and it lost four games.
How did Hamilton view 2007?
``I think it was a good football year,'' Hamilton said. ``We'd love to have gotten off on a faster track at the beginning of the season, but winning 9 of 11 games, finishing stronger and winning the East Division title and the bowl game, I'd say that's a good football season.
``Now some would say, 10 wins but you're playing 12 regular-season games. Certainly that's true, but I still think it's hard to win 10 ballgames because the competition is more on a level field now. The fact we finished in the top 12 … I think it was good football season. I wish we'd won the SEC championship. We were certainly there to play for it. There were some things that were accomplished this year.''
Auburn has won one SEC title this decade and played for the SEC title one other time. UT hasn't won a league championship, but has played in the SEC title game three times in the 2000s.
``We're doing things necessary to compete for a championship every year,'' he said. ``We may wind up with a two-loss or three-loss season, and in this case, four losses, but things are happening that lead us to the chance to compete for our championship.
``We could have easily scheduled someone other than California and gone 10-2 instead of 9-3 going into the (SEC title) game. Would that have made a difference psychologically to our fans and players? I don't know. But the reality is we're committed to playing tougher competition. And you take a chance you'll take a loss now and then by doing that. But I think the exposure gained in recruiting and nationally in doing so is worth that risk.''
HAMILTON DEFENDS PUNISHMENT
Hamilton defended the punishment of three UT football players who were in a marijuana smoke filled car with a recruit.
Two of the players – Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige – were cited for simple possession of marijuana. William Brimfield was not cited. He was a passenger, along with recruit Jameel Owens, in the back seat. The vehicle was stopped because of a burned out tag light.
Owens on Tuesday committed to Oklahoma.
The three players must undergo more drug tests, do community service at a drug rehab center, participate in police ride alongs, and can't host a recruit for a year.
While many have criticized the punishment as being too lenient because it didn't include game suspensions, Hamilton said more punishment was involved, but UT elected not to specify what it was.
Hamilton was involved with deciding the punishment.
He said game suspensions are possible based on the players' future behavior.
``I wouldn't agree with that (multiple-game suspensions) given the situation with the individuals involved,'' Hamilton said. ``It's too strict. We had not had any problems with them at all and they never had tested positive.''
Hamilton said more severe penalties would have been issued had the athletes had prior problems.
``That's the subjective nature of what we do,'' Hamilton said.
``This should not be perceived as condoning what happened. This is a serious incident.''
While marijuana is illegal and alcohol is not if you're 21, Hamilton said he's been told marijuana is more readily available to student-athletes than alcohol.