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UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton met with the media in his office Wednesday to discuss the raises given to coaches Phillip Fulmer and Bruce Pearl. He also addressed Coach Fulmer's history at UT and fan perception. Watch »
Wednesday's announcement of a new contract for Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer included a few new clauses and perhaps some different wording.
But more than that, it goes a long way toward quieting speculation about Fulmer's future at UT.
Fulmer's contract will average $2.99 million over the seven-year term, beginning at $2.4 million this season and escalating to $3.3 million by 2014.
And after a season in which fan discontent rang loudly following blowout losses to rivals Florida and Alabama, the deal should go a long way toward silencing those who like to debate Fulmer's job security.
"It's another answer to that question," UT athletic director Mike Hamilton. "Frankly, I think as it relates to any kind of speculation and stuff like that with contract extensions, the fact that we said eight regular-season wins gets an automatic rollover, that also has an impact as well."
Included in the deal is a clause that automatically will give Fulmer a one-year extension following any season in which the Vols win eight games during the regular season.
Hamilton arrived at eight wins in 12 games because it closely compares to UT's all-time winning percentage in football, noting that he hopes the Vols will exceed eight wins.
"I've never felt for one minute there wasn't a great commitment to us," Fulmer said. "Our fans want to win every game, and I do too. We have the greatest fans in all of college football. They have high standards. We have high standards for the program.
"We've won the division more times than anyone else in the league. We've played for championships, won championships. We're hungry for another one. We're going to win more championships at Tennessee."
Another new item in Fulmer's contract is automatic raises, in addition to an already present bonus structure, for achieving certain goals. An SEC championship, for instance, would result in a total guaranteed raise of $500,000, while a BCS national championship would mean a total raise of $1 million.
Also new is a one-time, $1 million longevity bonus to paid in 2012, which would be Fulmer's 20th season as head coach.
"A lot of coaches bounce around every few years," said Fulmer, who has remained at Tennessee since joining the staff as offensive line coach in 1980. "I've not been that way. Being a Tennessee guy, I think I have a better appreciation of the history and tradition of our school. As a result, I think there's a whole lot more commitment there than what might be typically coming from somebody that's just looking for the next job."
Hamilton said Fulmer's contract is an effort to reward him for that loyalty.
"Those days and times in the future of college athletics will be few and far between," Hamilton said. "In my opinion, there aren't going to be a lot of Joe Paternos and Bobby Bowdens in the future of college football. When Phillip Fulmer reaches the 20-year plateau, I think that's a significant accomplishment for the University of Tennessee and for Phillip Fulmer. This is one way to reward him for that."
Fulmer's new contract is also somewhat of a bargain, at least in terms of coaches' salaries.
Despite a $350,000 raise for the 2008 season, Fulmer remains the seventh highest-paid coach in the SEC.
Even if he earned the $3.3 million due in the final year of his contract this season, Fulmer would only rank third in the conference behind LSU's Les Miles and Alabama's Nick Saban.
"If Phillip decided today he was going to retire and move to his great home up in the mountains, to find a guy that had that kind of track record for what we're paying Phillip would be a difficult proposition," Hamilton said, citing Fulmer's career 147-45 record, five SEC championship game appearances, two SEC titles and a national championship. "We've got a guy who has had immense success for a long period of time, and for the most part been very consistent in that success. I think he should be rewarded for it."
Fulmer's new contract could have an impact on the recruiting trail as well. Questions from recruits and their families - and ammunition for rival schools - can move away from how much longer Fulmer, who has said he hopes to coach for another 8-10 years, will be at Tennessee.
That message came across as clear as any during Wednesday's announcement.
"I don't want any negative recruiting to be about how much longer is Phillip really going to coach," Hamilton said. "He's signing a seven-year contract. We're anticipating he's going to be here seven years-plus. That's what the contract says, that's what he's said he wants to do, that's what we've said we want him to do."
Drew Edwards may be reached at 865-342-6274.