Phillip Fulmer named to College Football Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame selections rarely create a controversy. Omissions are more likely to do that.
Coaches and players with robust enough resumes to be considered for induction are generally accepted without so much as a raised eyebrow's worth of indignation.
So no one should question Phillip Fulmer's selection to the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. It was as predictable as a victory over Kentucky when he was leading Tennessee football through the "T."
Nor is it surprising that he was deemed worthy of induction so soon after his coaching career came to an abrupt end in 2008. The record leaves no room for debate: 152-52-1, including 16 full seasons and a fraction of a season as replacement coach while his boss, John Majors, was recovering from heart surgery in 1992.
The record is more striking now than in the 1990s during which Fulmer went 45-5 in one Neyland-like, four-year stretch that — when contrasted with what's going on lately in UT football — seems as though it must have been accomplished in another football universe.
The rich history clashes with the present failure, and Fulmer played a major role in both. Although he was fired after two losing seasons in his last four years, that's not likely how he will be remembered.
Most successful coaches don't finish on top. Nebraska's Tom Osborne is a glowing exception. He won a national championship in his last game.
But the SEC provides considerable evidence that hall of fame coaches seldom say their good-byes with a walk-off home run.
Shug Jordan won a national championship, had two unbeaten teams and finished in the top 10 seven times in 25 seasons at Auburn. He went 4-6-1 his last season.
LSU's Charlie McClendon lost more than three games only twice in his first 12 seasons. He lost four or more in five of his last six seasons.
From 1957 through 1963, Johnny Vaught compiled a 64-7-4 record at Ole Miss. In his final seven full seasons, the Rebels were 48-26-3.
Jordan, McClendon and Vaught are all in the College Football Hall of Fame. Now, to the surprise of no one, Fulmer has joined them.
His selection isn't just an individual award. It honors his players, assistant coaches and even the head coach who preceded him.
Majors had the Vols humming along at a better than nine-victories-per-year pace over his last four seasons. Fulmer took it from there. winning nine or more games in six of his first seven seasons.
He quickly established himself as one of college football's marquee recruiters while assembling a staff that was almost comparable to his talent.
Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and defensive coordinator John Chavis were his high-profile assistant coaches. But don't forget about short-term contributors like Rodney Garner. He helped recruit three Georgia high school players — Jamal Lewis, Deon Grant and Cosey Coleman — whose footprints are embedded in UT's 13-0 national championship season in 1998.
The Phillip Fulmer Era
Fulmer didn't need a national championship to make the hall of fame. His overall record warranted induction. Yet his success against arch-rival Alabama was every bit as endearing to UT fans.
The Vols hadn't beaten the Tide since 1985 when Fulmer presided over a 41-14 victory 10 years later in Birmingham. It was the first of seven consecutive Tennessee victories in the series.
Phillip Fulmer on plans for the future
Fulmer turned the Alabama rivalry topsy-turvy, achieved an unbeaten season and won almost 75 percent of his games. That's how most UT fans will remember him.