Mike Strange: Phillip Fulmer: SEC dominance began before seven-year title run

Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer and his and his wife, Vicky, left, just after they ran through the "T" prior to the Vols Nov.  29, 2008, game against Kentucky. It was Fulmer's last game as the Vols' coach. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Michael Patrick

Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer and his and his wife, Vicky, left, just after they ran through the "T" prior to the Vols Nov. 29, 2008, game against Kentucky. It was Fulmer's last game as the Vols' coach. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

On Nov. 29, 2008, when Phillip Fulmer coached his last football game at Tennessee, the SEC had won two consecutive national championships.

That same Saturday Fulmer bowed out with one last win over Kentucky, Alabama beat Auburn to finish the regular season 12-0 in Nick Saban’s second season, a dramatic leap from 7-6 in his first.

The rest is SEC history.

The national title streak is at seven. Saban and Alabama have won three of the past four and show no sign of backing off in 2013.

The NFL draft is once again front-loaded with SEC talent. Next week, the conference will announce its own TV network.

“Seven, it’s hard to believe it’s been that many years in a row because there are certainly other really good teams out there,’’ Fulmer said Friday during a break from the annual golf tournament he hosts at Willow Creek on behalf of the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Fulmer, however, doesn’t believe the SEC’s dominance dates only to Florida’s 2006 national title, the first of the seven.

“It’s been that way a lot longer than seven years,’’ he said.

Fair point. The SEC has won 10 of the past 17 titles, including Tennessee’s 1998 contribution.

Still, it all seems to have gone to another level. It’s almost as if Oregon or Ohio State are playing for the “best of the rest” distinction, the right to end the season in some stadium watching an SEC team hoist the crystal football.

Maybe the streak ends in 2013, maybe not. A four-team playoff is coming in 2014.

In Fulmer’s mind, the SEC championship game has long been a de facto playoff. It began in 1992 and Alabama used it as a springboard to a national title. The SEC has won 11 titles in its 21-year championship-game era.

“I used to tell everybody that winning your division was like winning the old (pre-division) conference,’’ Fulmer said, “and winning the SEC championship was like winning the semifinals of the national championship.

“It’s harder to win that game than it would be to win the national championship. It absolutely is.’’

We’ll never know if UT would have won the 2001 national title game against Miami. The No. 2 Vols were upset by LSU in the SEC championship game, costing them a trip to the Rose Bowl and an opportunity to play for a second BCS title in four years. Miami beat Nebraska to win the crown.

“We had a national championship,’’ Fulmer said, “and we had three teams that were probably better than that team that didn’t win it — ’95, ’97 and 2001.

“So you’ve got to be fortunate to get to that end game.’’

That’s a strong statement by the head coach. Three teams better than the revered, undefeated ‘98 champs?

Both the ’95 and ’97 Vols were essentially

eliminated from the national title chase by early losses to Florida. The ’95 Vols finished No. 3 in the final poll after a Citrus Bowl win over Ohio State, the ’97 team No. 7 after an Orange Bowl loss to Nebraska.

The ’01 team was title-game bound until it lost to LSU in Atlanta. The consolation prize was a Citrus Bowl win over Michigan and a No. 4 final ranking.

Titles and rankings aren’t a big talking point at UT lately. The Vols haven’t been on the bandwagon for the extended SEC joyride.

Fulmer hopes athletic director Dave Hart is addressing some of the institutional issues that likely contributed to UT’s decline.

He has also met with new coach Butch Jones and came away impressed:

“I think he’s going to be great, I really do. We’ve got to be patient. It’s about recruiting, getting the right guys.’’

Everybody in the league seems to be getting the right guys. Even Vanderbilt.

“That won’t do anything but help because that will raise our level of play,’’ Fulmer said.

“That guy (coach James Franklin) has done a good job. But it’s still Vanderbilt and we should still be better than them.’’

That would be a step back in the right direction, the first step toward resuming its place in the best league that just seems to keep getting better.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 23

SevenT writes:

Firing Fulmer was the single biggest mistakes in the history of College Football. Just look how pitiful Tennessee has been since Fulmer is gone.

Just Saying

MooseandSquirrelVol writes:

in response to SevenT:

Firing Fulmer was the single biggest mistakes in the history of College Football. Just look how pitiful Tennessee has been since Fulmer is gone.

Just Saying

I suppose all you 1%ers who were satisfied with beating Vandy and Kentucky every year while playing third fiddle behind (whoever coached)Florida and (whoever)Nick Saban coached will always feel that way.

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Firing Fulmer was the single biggest mistakes in the history of College Football. Just look how pitiful Tennessee has been since Fulmer is gone.

Just Saying

Fulmer needed firing , he started this down fall.

bigorangeyankees writes:

in response to MooseandSquirrelVol:

I suppose all you 1%ers who were satisfied with beating Vandy and Kentucky every year while playing third fiddle behind (whoever coached)Florida and (whoever)Nick Saban coached will always feel that way.

Suppose you look at Phil's record against Bama. UF was UT's only obstacle for many years. Look back at Bama, LSU, and other SEC records in the 80's and 90s. Every team goes thru bad cycles, looks like it is our turn right now.

richvol writes:

Losing that 2001 title game to LSU was the biggest disappointment that I have had in over 50 years of following Tennessee football. A chance to play in the Rose Bowl against a Miami team that we most likely would have beaten just absolutely destroyed any confidence I had left in Fulmer. I sat there and couldn't believe the coaching mistakes made in that game.

The worst,and most costly,loss in the history of UT football.

jimr07 writes:

in response to richvol:

Losing that 2001 title game to LSU was the biggest disappointment that I have had in over 50 years of following Tennessee football. A chance to play in the Rose Bowl against a Miami team that we most likely would have beaten just absolutely destroyed any confidence I had left in Fulmer. I sat there and couldn't believe the coaching mistakes made in that game.

The worst,and most costly,loss in the history of UT football.

Amen to that. I think LSU had to use a backup quarterback...

BruisedOrange writes:

Comment on the PAST:
The 2001 loss to LSU illustrates how critical game-planning is in top tier college football. We had more talent and experience than LSU, but we were prepared to beat their starters.

After they lost their starting QB Davey--AND running back (Toefield?)--in the first half... they were no longer the team our guys had game-planned for.

It's ironic. If LSU's starting RB had remained in the game, they would have had Mauck handing off to him instead of running himself, and we would have won.

Comment on the FUTURE:
According to the article "Fulmer hopes athletic director Dave Hart is addressing some of the institutional issues that likely contributed to UT’s decline."

"Hopes... is" indicates he doesn't know if Hart is or not. Which means all these changes we've been reading about are evidently NOT (in Fulmer's mind) the critical ones.

I think that's the real news in this article.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

Hart is essentially a "care taker" A.D.
He is a hatchet-man by trade and reputation; he lived up to that in his handling of UT's former Women's Athletics Department, and his clumsy handling of Pat Summitt's departure.
His fumbling the hiring of a new Football Coach was only saved by Peyton Manning's fortuitous call from Jones for the Colorado job, in which Manning found himself listening to Jones pitch the Tennessee job...and Manning called Cutcliffe to get Cut's impression of Jones' team @ Cincinnati. (C+ to B-)
And UT had just been told to get lost by Louisville's coach---before Hamilton/Hart's tenures as A.D., can you IMAGINE a Louisville coach's declining to take a UT Head Football Coach's job???

Hart is just drumming his fingers, waiting for the bell to sound. HART has made sure he has done all he can to establish his son...who is doing well, having just left UTC for SMU as A.D (the position David Blackburn, formerly of UT, took over last week.)

So Hart is merely waiting this one out, making the fewest waves possible, trying to avoid any backwash from Cheek's and the other higher-up academics' screw ups, and hoping somebody in one of the two major men's sports wins something.

Note that news that a sexual assault charge dropped against a UT Basketball Player had been dropped,

was witheld for weeks, until the basketball team's underwhelming season had ended...and the player kicked to the curb.

Note also that under Hart/Hamilton/Cheek and the unlimited-number-of-stooges in charge,
UT Football haa fallen to the level that no high profile head coach would take it.

Note that PR-gaffe-a-prone Jones, who made goofball statements early on, has been reined in, and gotten support from UT Lettermen who saw another train wreck in the making if he were allowed to fail...

but the real problems at UT are what Phillip Fulmer did not enumerate: they include what to do with Jimmy Cheek and his co-prudes in academia, the impending new A.D.'s selection (following Hart) and the rest of the academic prudes who want intellectually pristine major college athletics.

Yeah, right....

GO VOLS!

volinlm writes:

Phil did a lot of great things for UT and he is still a loyal Vol supporter even though he was fired. Why can't we just leave it at that. This continuing post-mortem does absolutely no good.

jt45 writes:

No sense in rehashing what could have been. I guess its always the easy way out when news is slow at the office. Jones will straighten out the football programs recent decline no matter who is pulling the strings as long as he continues to recruit good kids who really want to be a Vol and are willing to put in the work to get it done.

laraccoon writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Comment on the PAST:
The 2001 loss to LSU illustrates how critical game-planning is in top tier college football. We had more talent and experience than LSU, but we were prepared to beat their starters.

After they lost their starting QB Davey--AND running back (Toefield?)--in the first half... they were no longer the team our guys had game-planned for.

It's ironic. If LSU's starting RB had remained in the game, they would have had Mauck handing off to him instead of running himself, and we would have won.

Comment on the FUTURE:
According to the article "Fulmer hopes athletic director Dave Hart is addressing some of the institutional issues that likely contributed to UT’s decline."

"Hopes... is" indicates he doesn't know if Hart is or not. Which means all these changes we've been reading about are evidently NOT (in Fulmer's mind) the critical ones.

I think that's the real news in this article.

that 2001 team was IMO Fulmers best overall team ,he should have hoisted the trophy that year also. i think what led to UTs decline in football was poor coaching that eventually recruits started to notice and went elsewhere ,you have to admit some of those offenses under Randy Sanders were way to predictable, i think the bad sentiment towards Fulmer was already growing and Clawson just happened to be the scapegoat for lack of a better term . i think the "institutional issues" have alot to do with money which was never an issue in the athletic department as far as i can remember while Fulmer was here . i think some of these people who keep whinning about Hart trying to trim the budget in the womens athletic department dont know what their talking about , the dope above "dipthruandthru" acts like he knows what happened between Hart and Summitt just likes to run his pie hole to hear himself . when you look at the salary of the womens strength and conditioning coach compared to some of her male counterparts it just goes to show there are problems when you weigh what those programs bring in compared to what they spend. I also cant believe some morons keep crying over Charlie Strong just trying to paint Hart in a bad light , Hart made the best hire possible IMO ,sure looks that way on the recruiting trail and i would think those kids have more info than most of us keyboard coaches .

Rugby2 writes:

in response to jt45:

No sense in rehashing what could have been. I guess its always the easy way out when news is slow at the office. Jones will straighten out the football programs recent decline no matter who is pulling the strings as long as he continues to recruit good kids who really want to be a Vol and are willing to put in the work to get it done.

Agree completely. The past is the past. Fulmer had his time, brought UT a National Championship (no small feat). Now it's Butch Jones time to bring UT back to national prominence. Gol Vols!

Give Blood, Play Rugby

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to dwolfcreek#397971:

Fulmer needed firing , he started this down fall.

The Vols were an idiotic interception away from defeating eventual national champion LSU in 2007. Fulmer was -not- done with winnnig when he was fired, and he had a pretty good class inbound when Hammy panicked and pulled the plug.

Hamilton's decisons contributed much more to UT's demise than CPF's did. And I mean while CPF was still the coach.

After that for Hammy, it almost seemed as if "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad."

Or in Hammy's case, clueless.

Walt

UT '81

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

in response to Geofffourmyle:

The Vols were an idiotic interception away from defeating eventual national champion LSU in 2007. Fulmer was -not- done with winnnig when he was fired, and he had a pretty good class inbound when Hammy panicked and pulled the plug.

Hamilton's decisons contributed much more to UT's demise than CPF's did. And I mean while CPF was still the coach.

After that for Hammy, it almost seemed as if "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad."

Or in Hammy's case, clueless.

Walt

UT '81

Fans are tired of hearing about the Fulmer firing, yet most of them have no idea what really happened.

If they did, they would still have no patience with what was a dirty deal. The problems Fulmer had, in a large part, were problems any HC would have had with the Administration at UT at that time:

-Cheek terrified that Fulmer's infuence with big-dollar alums was so much greater than his own that Fulmer just may have been able to get rid of him---since Cheek wanted to cut the influence of athletics...and did so acting as if he were bracing up academics...when in reality he was letting that creep,Hamilton, have free rein to set Fulmer up.

Hamilton hid behind a lot of great values, but was an ace at sticking people.

Not that most of us have not been hypocritical at times, but not made about $9million dollars for doing so..

Anyway...Phillip Fulmer is doing other things, and doing them well.

And those who wanted change got it: Kiffen, Dooley, and a coach that may have a chance of doing some things because a LOT of the Big Orange power elite have gotten behind him, so that he does not shoot himself in the foot.

Colliervol writes:

in response to Geofffourmyle:

The Vols were an idiotic interception away from defeating eventual national champion LSU in 2007. Fulmer was -not- done with winnnig when he was fired, and he had a pretty good class inbound when Hammy panicked and pulled the plug.

Hamilton's decisons contributed much more to UT's demise than CPF's did. And I mean while CPF was still the coach.

After that for Hammy, it almost seemed as if "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad."

Or in Hammy's case, clueless.

Walt

UT '81

Then why hasn't somebody else hired him if he was such a hot commodity? He was great at one point and then slacked off. Happens a lot when folks hit the pinnacle and get complacent. Personally I don't have any problem grasping that concept. Hard to figure out why others can't.

MR_VOL writes:

in response to richvol:

Losing that 2001 title game to LSU was the biggest disappointment that I have had in over 50 years of following Tennessee football. A chance to play in the Rose Bowl against a Miami team that we most likely would have beaten just absolutely destroyed any confidence I had left in Fulmer. I sat there and couldn't believe the coaching mistakes made in that game.

The worst,and most costly,loss in the history of UT football.

I am in full agreement.

I was at that game, and I can honestly say it was the absolute worst coached UT football game I have ever seen. The team certainly was not prepared and had only two offensive plays being “pound that rock” and “hail-mary.” “Third and Chavis” could not, would not, or simply did not know how to make an adjustment while “7 Points Sanders” [and Fulmer] tried and tried to pound that rock, but unfortunately on that night ran into a rock that simply would not bust.

I honestly believe UT [coaches and players] felt by simply showing up, LSU would just roll over and surrender. There was as much disbelief in the coaches eyes as in the players eyes. Once the game was over, you could cut the disappointment with a knife.

If I had to specifically pin-point the exact time when UT football started to decline, I would, without hesitation, say this game.

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to MR_VOL:

I am in full agreement.

I was at that game, and I can honestly say it was the absolute worst coached UT football game I have ever seen. The team certainly was not prepared and had only two offensive plays being “pound that rock” and “hail-mary.” “Third and Chavis” could not, would not, or simply did not know how to make an adjustment while “7 Points Sanders” [and Fulmer] tried and tried to pound that rock, but unfortunately on that night ran into a rock that simply would not bust.

I honestly believe UT [coaches and players] felt by simply showing up, LSU would just roll over and surrender. There was as much disbelief in the coaches eyes as in the players eyes. Once the game was over, you could cut the disappointment with a knife.

If I had to specifically pin-point the exact time when UT football started to decline, I would, without hesitation, say this game.

Well, UT was ahead in that game as I recall 17-10 and had knocked out both the LSU QB Davie and best RB Toefield. There were two bad UT fumbles in the second half and no adjustments made for the running QB who replaced QB Davie.

Recall that this was the week after a very emotional defeat of UF 34-32 -- Spurrier's last game at Florida Field as it turned out.

Walt

UT '81

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Then why hasn't somebody else hired him if he was such a hot commodity? He was great at one point and then slacked off. Happens a lot when folks hit the pinnacle and get complacent. Personally I don't have any problem grasping that concept. Hard to figure out why others can't.

Probably his age as much as anything.

Walt

UT '81

Cwilli28 writes:

I would like to know specifically what the institutional issues are. Not just conjecture. Come on KNS!

MR_VOL writes:

in response to Geofffourmyle:

Well, UT was ahead in that game as I recall 17-10 and had knocked out both the LSU QB Davie and best RB Toefield. There were two bad UT fumbles in the second half and no adjustments made for the running QB who replaced QB Davie.

Recall that this was the week after a very emotional defeat of UF 34-32 -- Spurrier's last game at Florida Field as it turned out.

Walt

UT '81

Walt, you said it yourself and I could not agree more, no adjustments made. In my world, no adjustments is no coaching. And as the head coach, it is your duty to keep the team pointed in a forward direction regardless of an emotional win [or loss] the previous week.

SeaBassHauling writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Comment on the PAST:
The 2001 loss to LSU illustrates how critical game-planning is in top tier college football. We had more talent and experience than LSU, but we were prepared to beat their starters.

After they lost their starting QB Davey--AND running back (Toefield?)--in the first half... they were no longer the team our guys had game-planned for.

It's ironic. If LSU's starting RB had remained in the game, they would have had Mauck handing off to him instead of running himself, and we would have won.

Comment on the FUTURE:
According to the article "Fulmer hopes athletic director Dave Hart is addressing some of the institutional issues that likely contributed to UT’s decline."

"Hopes... is" indicates he doesn't know if Hart is or not. Which means all these changes we've been reading about are evidently NOT (in Fulmer's mind) the critical ones.

I think that's the real news in this article.

Hit it right on the nails head....You nailed IT...! We need more UT fans like yourself....Well DONE

SeaBassHauling writes:

in response to MR_VOL:

Walt, you said it yourself and I could not agree more, no adjustments made. In my world, no adjustments is no coaching. And as the head coach, it is your duty to keep the team pointed in a forward direction regardless of an emotional win [or loss] the previous week.

BS.....Sounds like to me since you seem to know sooooo much that you should've been the Head Coach Mr Vol.....And I'm sure you could've been the second most winningest coach in UTs history......Side NOTE....The most winningest TEAM in The Modern Day History of College Football....!!! Tennessee....!!!

SeaBassHauling writes:

in response to MR_VOL:

I am in full agreement.

I was at that game, and I can honestly say it was the absolute worst coached UT football game I have ever seen. The team certainly was not prepared and had only two offensive plays being “pound that rock” and “hail-mary.” “Third and Chavis” could not, would not, or simply did not know how to make an adjustment while “7 Points Sanders” [and Fulmer] tried and tried to pound that rock, but unfortunately on that night ran into a rock that simply would not bust.

I honestly believe UT [coaches and players] felt by simply showing up, LSU would just roll over and surrender. There was as much disbelief in the coaches eyes as in the players eyes. Once the game was over, you could cut the disappointment with a knife.

If I had to specifically pin-point the exact time when UT football started to decline, I would, without hesitation, say this game.

You got to be kidding me....! This is the SEC....! If you know it....Then you know it well...! Playing that emotional game in Gainesville was like playing for and winning the SEC championship....! Then actually go and play the following weekend in the game against a team you had beaten earlier in the year.....This is the SEC....Beating an SEC opponent twice in the same year AND for the Title.....Come ON....! Yes I was also disappointed BUT I also wasn't surprised by the lost....AND I don't care what happened in the game....IT IS WHAT IT IS...! The SEC and College Football...You got to be Kidding...!!!

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