No formal decision has been made regarding Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer's future, an anonymous source who would be involved in such a decision told the News Sentinel on Monday, two days after the Vols lost to No. 2 Alabama in Neyland Stadium and fell to 3-5 overall.
However, the source said that big losses to SEC rivals and an upset loss in overtime at UCLA in the season-opener could prove too much for Fulmer, regardless of what happens in UT's four remaining games.
A second source close to the program said a win over Alabama last week would have strongly bolstered Fulmer's chances to be retained next season, especially if UT went on to win its four remaining games.
That source said a 6-6 record would result in a coaching change, adding that Fulmer would not be guaranteed to save his job if the Vols go 7-5 this season.
There is no timetable in place to make a public announcement on Fulmer's future. UT officials would prefer to wait until after the season before making a final decision.
Fulmer could not be reached Monday for comment.
Saturday's 29-9 loss to No. 2 Alabama in Neyland Stadium marked the third time this season the Vols have lost by double-digits to a major SEC foe.
UT lost to Florida 30-6 at home on Sept. 20 and at Georgia 26-14 on Oct. 11. Tennessee, 1-4 in the SEC, earned its conference win two weekends ago over Mississippi State, 34-3.
Overall, Tennessee is 1-5 in its last six games against Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
Perhaps most damaging is the margin of defeat in those games. Counting UT's win during that stretch, a 35-14 victory over Georgia last year, the average score in those games has been 33-17 in favor of UT's opponents, and those five losses have come by a combined margin on 185-66.
Since 2000, the Vols are 11-16 against Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Including this season, the Vols have gone 0-3 against those teams three times (2008, 2005 and 2002). Conversely, the Vols have defeated all three in a single season once (2004).
Tennessee's remaining schedule offers Fulmer little chance to impress high-level boosters and athletic department decision makers.
The Vols play at South Carolina (5-3, 2-3 in the SEC) this weekend then play host to Wyoming (2-6) on Nov. 8.
Following a bye week, the Vols play at Vanderbilt (5-3, 3-2) on Nov. 22 and at home against Kentucky (5-3, 1-3) on Nov. 29 to finish the season.
UT must win three of the remaining four to become bowl eligible.
None of the remaining teams on UT's schedule is ranked, although South Carolina spent one week ranked No. 24 in September and Vanderbilt climbed to No. 13 after starting 5-0. UT's three remaining SEC opponents are ahead of the Vols in the East standings.
By winning its remaining three conference games, UT could still finish as high as third in the SEC East. Over his career, Fulmer is 43-2 against those three teams, with the only losses coming to South Carolina and Vanderbilt in 2005.
The Vols are a six-point underdog against South Carolina. If Tennessee fails to finish at least fourth in the SEC East this season, it would mark UT's worst finish in the SEC since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992, the year before Fulmer became head coach.
One more SEC loss would result in Fulmer's second losing season in conference since 2005, the only two such occurrences in his 17 seasons as head coach.
Despite its on-field struggles, however, Tennessee has continued to recruit well. Rivals.com ranks the Vols' commitments for 2009 as the No. 7 class at this point, behind only LSU and Alabama in the SEC. Scout.com ranks UT 10th-best in the nation, behind Auburn, Georgia and LSU in the SEC.