Tennessee coach draws ire from fans; much more
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 9:10AM; Updated: Wednesday June 27, 2007 12:05PM
Last Friday night, I was sitting in the backseat of a cab with the windows rolled down when a dude in a convertible pulled up next to me blasting that song Hey there, Delilah. It's been stuck in my head for five straight days since. The good news is, it's soft, melodious and not nearly as annoying as Outkast's Hey Ya!, which, you may recall, got stuck in the heads of the entire American population for a good two months in the winter of 2004.
You know what else will get stuck in your head if you're not careful? Rocky Top. I defy anyone to attend a Tennessee sporting event and not come away humming that thing for the next week. You don't even need to remember the words, just the last line ("Good old, Rocky Top ... Rocky Top, Tennessee") and maybe that weird part about telephone bills.
So how are things on ol' Rocky Top these days, anyway? Apparently, not as idyllic as one might imagine.
In your opinion, what is the main reason why Tennessee is barely mentioned anymore nationally? They are not considered as a favorite to even win their division. And you did not include the UF-Tennessee matchup as one of your 10 most important games as it has been in the past, even though they have played some good ones lately. Is it that you believe the present coaching staff simply cannot get it done?
Do you think if Phillip Fulmer does not get the Vols to a BCS bowl this year Tennessee would look bad for giving him the boot? Here's a guy who year in and year out has some of the best recruits in the country come in only to churn out mediocre seasons (with the exception of 1998). Some people tend to think that his one and only national championship has given him a free ride for the rest of his life. The guy had a freaking losing season two years ago with a preseason No. 3 squad!!!! What gives?
So you want to give Big Phil the boot, do you? I guess that means they'll have to take down that street they named after him (Phillip Fulmer Way). And explain why they're firing one of the five winningest active coaches in the country (only Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Mark Richt have a higher percentage among guys with at least five years experience).
But both Gerald and Josh have valid points. While the Vols remain a regular top-20 program, the fact is they're not as nationally relevant as they were a decade ago. They haven't won an SEC championship since 1998, haven't played in a BCS bowl since '99 and haven't seriously contended for the national title since 2001. In the five seasons since, they've posted a combined record of 42-21 -- not too shabby by any means but certainly a step down from their 54-8 run from 1995 to '99.
Without question, the trademark of Fulmer's 15-year tenure in Knoxville has been recruiting. The Vols do it as well as anyone, not only dominating their own state but luring big-time talent from as far away as California. Many of their biggest stars over the years -- from Peyton Manning (Louisiana) to Jamal Lewis (Georgia) to Peerless Price (Ohio) to Donte Stallworth (California) -- have come from outside of Tennessee. Based on the recruiting rankings, that juggernaut seems to be continuing today. According to Rivals.com, two of the Vols' past three classes have ranked in the top five nationally.
But even the best recruiters occasionally make mistakes, and Fulmer would be the first to tell you the program got sloppy a few years ago, recruiting some questionable characters who not only flamed out on the field but also created off-field distractions and poisoned the locker room. They contributed heavily to the 5-6 disaster in 2005. But I also think Fulmer and his staff have been exposed a bit as coaches ever since the SEC playing field got leveled a bit. The Vols may still be recruiting blue-chippers, but so too are Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn. I don't think any football observer would ever single out Fulmer as a world-class game coach. It's not like you watch a Vols game and go, "Oh, yeah, that was a signature Fulmer move." So is it any wonder that when the talent is mostly even, Fulmer has struggled against more renowned tacticians like Steve Spurrier (4-8), Richt (2-4), Tommy Tuberville (1-3 since Tuberville got to Auburn) and Meyer (0-2)?
This year's Vols certainly look promising on paper, but Tennessee is one of those teams that always looks good on paper because it's never hurting for talent. Is it fair for Tennessee fans to expect a return to the BCS sooner than later? Absolutely. But I'll tell you this much -- with Meyer, Richt and Spurrier in his own division and Nick Saban now on the Vols' schedule every year at Alabama, it's not going to get any easier for Fulmer.
Can you please explain to me how the NCAA came up with its punishment for Colorado? They considered feeding walk-on athletes (not just football players) to be a major violation? I have been mad at the NCAA since the Jeremy Bloom fiasco, and this recent decision just reinforces my opinion that the NCAA has lost it. I can only imagine what they will do to Oklahoma and USC.
This is about as classic a case of NCAA pencil-pushing as you can get. As I said in the Reggie Bush Mailbag a few weeks back, the NCAA can only punish a school for violations it actually knows about and can prove. Colorado took care of that for them by self-reporting the violations, which apparently consisted of inadvertently undercharging walk-ons who ate athletic training-table meals (more expensive than dorm meals) over a five-year period. The NCAA depends on schools' compliance departments to police themselves when it comes to such matters, so CU did the right thing by alerting the NCAA of the discrepancy once it was discovered. But did the NCAA really need to levy two years of probation, dock three football scholarships and fine the school $100,000? For that?
The NCAA would undoubtedly respond that the school broke the rules -- whether purposely or not -- and therefore must pay the price. But let's exercise a little common sense here. The purpose of the NCAA's enforcement division, according to its Web site, is to "ensure integrity and fair play among its members." Does anyone really think Colorado was gaining a competitive advantage by feeding its walk-ons better meals? Ridiculous. Just another blow for a downtrodden football program still reeling from the nasty headlines and the school's own self-imposed recruiting restrictions during the tail end of the Gary Barnett era.
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