“Out with Hammy ... In with Fulmer.”
That was the opening line on a message-board post regarding a column I wrote last week on Mike Hamilton’s job security as the University of Tennessee men’s athletic director.
The post also observed, “[Phil Fulmer] brings integrity and stability to the Big Orange Trainwreck by railroad conductor Hamilton. Plus, Fulmer bleeds so much Orange he’d jump off a Neyland Stadium light tower for the good of the school.”
The number of people jumping off the Hamilton bandwagon appears to be substantial in light of continuing updates on basketball coach Bruce Pearl’s growing problems with the NCAA.
A quick glance at Big Orange message boards will underscore the anger many UT fans have toward Hamilton, though the AD’s worst mistake may have been to believe that Pearl couldn’t possibly break rules because he was always too willing to turn in other folks for that behavior.
But Fulmer’s CBS interview during the Florida-Tennessee game last Saturday also underscores how happy Fulmer might be to replace the man who canned him near the close of 2008 season after 16 years atop Rocky Top.
“Tennessee is a very proud program, with great traditions, and the people of Tennessee felt betrayed [by Fulmer successor Lane Kiffin], to be honest with you,” Fulmer said.
“They were embarrassed, felt jilted with all the cost of the change there was. ... The bigger question, in my opinion, is how does a guy like this end up with two jobs with historic football teams like Tennessee and USC?”
In other words, how could Hamilton — in Fulmer’s opinion — have fired a son of Tennessee, a former Big Orange player, a man who spent nearly 40 years of his life tied to the Volunteers program in some form or fashion to hire someone with, in Fulmer’s words, an “arrogant attitude”?
Left unsaid was Fulmer’s apparent belief that he would be the perfect candidate to replace Hamilton, should the AD ever need replacing.
And it is an interesting argument here in Big Orange Country during a week when there seems so little interest in picking apart Saturday’s nonconference game against Alabama-Birmingham.
No one loves the Vols more than Fulmer, who richly deserved one more season to turn his program around. No UT coach except Fulmer over the past 59 seasons has won a football national championship. Moreover, the Vols never seriously ran afoul of the NCAA during his tenure as head coach, though — much like Pearl — Fulmer appeared to revel in turning others in, especially Alabama.
Speaking of the NCAA, Fulmer also couldn’t wait to note during his CBS appearance that Kiffin “left Tennessee with a bunch of compliance issues.”
But for all the good Fulmer might do in soothing a few boosters’ feelings, two words should keep the Big Orange Nation from ever seriously considering him for athletic director: Fulmer Cup.
An Internet creation of longtime Florida fan and sports blogger Orson Swindle, the Fulmer Cup is given annually to the FBS program that collectively had the worst criminal record.
Swindle started the dubious award in 2006 after 20 UT football players were arrested for varying degrees of criminal behavior during a 16-month period from 2004 to 2005. Of course, Alabama won the Fulmer Cup in 2008, then won the national championship last year, so maybe a few punks and thugs are necessary.
Fulmer would not necessarily be as lenient as an AD as he was as a football coach, but past behavior is normally a fairly reliable predictor of future behavior, so one would have to think Fulmer might be as slow to run a tight ship now as then.
Thankfully, replacing Hamilton is neither necessary nor eminent at this moment. Some may argue that the only reasons he still has a job is that (a) UT has no permanent president at this time, and (b) powerful booster Jim Haslam is too focused on his son Bill’s gubernatorial campaign to push for Hamilton’s ouster.
Yet Haslam has never been like Auburn’s Wizard of Oz, Bobby Lowder. He may support a UT administrator’s desire for change — Fulmer and Jerry Green come to mind — but he rarely suggests or pushes it.
So no one should expect Hamilton’s job to become more tenuous after the election. But just in case the school ultimately finds itself looking for a new AD, another Big Orange coach with national championship credentials would do the job quite nicely.
And if Pat Summitt were in charge, NCAA charges would be a thing of the past, as would any coach committing them.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.