Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hearing a few grumbles from Phillip Fulmer supporters regarding UT’s basketball season. Yes, Fulmer and basketball.
I blew it off knowing that you always have grumblers whenever losses come.
But this week I got an excellent e-mail from a very knowledgeable Vol fan. Someone who is close to the program and close to Fulmer. His e-mail was well thought out, and it meshed with some of those other grumbles I’d heard.
He wrote (and I paraphrase): “I wonder if Mike Hamilton will hold the coaches he’s hired to the same standards to which he held Fulmer.”
The suggestion from some of these Fulmer-backers: “Bruce Pearl’s having a bad year, let’s see if Hamilton fires him.”
It’s completely fair to wonder if UT’s athletic director will judge his hires as he judged the coaches he inherited. My guess is, in the long run, he probably won’t.
New bosses usually bring in their own people when they see a job performance issue. It’s human nature. Hamilton inherited Fulmer, Buzz Peterson and Rod Delmonico in the Big Three sports. They’re all gone.
It’s also human nature to protect one’s self. Pearl, Lane Kiffin, and Todd Raleigh are now connected to Hamilton. He needs for them to do well. I’m guessing he’ll give them all the support that they need to succeed. It’s his tail if they don’t. So I would expect him to have a slow hook.
That said, the question I’ve been hearing, “Wonder if he’ll hold Pearl to the same standards as Fulmer?” isn’t a fair question right now in March of 2009. It might be a fair question in, let’s say, five years.
Fulmer is a beloved figure to a lot of Tennessee fans. He should be. He won a national championship, won 152 games, and he’s departed with about as much class as a man in his position could.
But he also had taken over one of the top 10 football jobs in the country. He took UT to an even higher level, but then things plateaued and fell off. Could he have fixed the program? We’ll never know.
But of the 52 losses Fulmer suffered, 21 came in his final four seasons, while he lost the other 31 over a 12-year span. That’s a four-year drop after taking over and sustaining a good program.
Pearl is building a never-was program. Kentucky, Arkansas and Florida all have national titles. The Vols have never even made an Elite Eight. Kentucky and LSU have won more conference titles than UT. Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama have more all-time wins.
Yet, regardless of how the Vols finish this season, Pearl already has led them to the best four-year record in school history, 94-33 since 2005.
In addition, Tennessee had never finished three consecutive seasons ranked in the national polls. Yet they did just that in Pearl’s first three seasons.
They couldn’t do it under Ray Mears. They didn’t do it with Ernie and Bernie. They never did it under Jerry Green. Only under Pearl have they done it.
His “down” year (in which his team could still make the NCAA tournament for just the 17th time in the school’s 100-year history) is coming while he’s still trying to build a program.
Therefore, it’s not a fair comparison to say, “Well, they fired Fulmer after one bad year . . . The situations are totally different. And 17-10 is hardly 5-7, by the way.
If Fulmer had received heat in 1999 or 2000, then OK. But he received a decade’s grace after the 1998 national title.
If Pearl struggles for the next three years, and then gets the Fulmer treatment, then that also would be OK.
But not now. Not yet. The situations don’t match-up.
Those folks who supported Fulmer, though their anger is with Hamilton, not Pearl, don’t do Pearl any favors when they make these types of comments.
And Kiffin should be prepared to hear this as well. He should be ready to hear more of it.
If Kiffin goes 5-7 in Year One, you can expect to hear, “Well, why don’t they fire him?”
As though seasons take place in a vacuum, where we only need look at one year’s results to make perfectly fair comparisons to another year.
Pay no attention to the fact that Fulmer had overseen a bit of a decline and that Kiffin is inheriting a program that is down in talent. The pro-Fulmer, anti-Hamilton folks will believe that Kiffin’s first sign of trouble, even if it’s in his first year, should result in a dismissal.
That’s what they believe happened to their guy.
Love towards Fulmer is understandable. The anger towards Hamilton, if you’re a Fulmer-backer, also is understandable.
But comparing Kiffin’s results in a rebuilding effort or Pearl’s results in a plain ol’ building effort to those of Fulmer show a lack of understanding when it comes to the overall situations surrounding these men.
It’s an argument grounded in passion, not in logic.
John Pennington hosts the Hall’s Salvage Sports Source on Sunday at 11 a.m. on WATE.