Wiedmer: Should Fulmer replace Hamilton?

Wiedmer: Should Fulmer replace Hamilton?

January 14th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogsutugautc

Amazing what a year can do. Or a weekend. Less than 15 months after the University of Tennessee fired Phillip Fulmer as its football coach, ESPN began circulating a rumor on Wednesday that "several" UT Board of Trustee members wanted Fulmer back as either the coach or athletic director.

Not both jobs, mind you. Just one or the other. Still, it's amazing how absence can make the heart grow fonder after one of the more unkind dismissals in SEC history.

Amazing, too, how quickly you can go from being the toast of Big Orange Nation -- which Hamilton was in many eyes after hiring Lane Kiffin to go along with basketball coach Bruce Pearl -- to just plain toast.

Whether the story concerning Fulmer's possible return is true or not -- and "several" could presumably mean as few as two of the current 26 board members -- Hamilton's long-term employment probably rests on his second football hire in 14 months.

Get it right this time and he can probably breathe easy for the next five or six years. At least as long as no more football or basketball players are arrested with guns, drugs or alcohol. Get it wrong and the Vols could have a new AD before the start of 2011.

But who is the right hire to replace Lame Lane? And beyond that, was Kiffin necessarily the wrong hire, or merely the wrong hire to make 14 months before Southern Cal unexpectedly came open?

We can all bash Kiffin for bailing out on the Vols three weeks from signing day, but what if USC really is his dream job? How many of us would turn down our dream job out of loyalty to our current employer? And if we did, what would that employer do for us? That's the flip side of Kiffin's departure. There's no loyalty either way or Fulmer would have had at least one more year to turn things around.

Still, if you're Hamilton you're on the clock. You even stated on Wednesday that you plan to have a coach by Sunday, which also means you have no problem with creating the same problem for someone else that Southern Cal and Kiffin just created for you.

Admittedly, hiring Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp grays the ethics line. Muschamp's an assistant, so you can't blame him or Hamilton for giving him a chance to advance his career.

But Muschamp could still be a short-term fix. Even if he's willing to walk away from his head coach-in-waiting position with the Longhorns to coach the Vols, he's also a Georgia alum and former assistant at Auburn and LSU.

Leaving one UT for another would presumably take the eyes of Texas off him for the rest of his career, but what about those other three SEC schools? Would he wave allegiance to all three with a hefty buyout in his contract if he left the Vols? Could Hamilton afford to ask anything less?

And if Hamilton eventually chooses an existing head coach -- UConn's Randy Edsall, perhaps? -- will the Big Orange Nation demand that the new hire encourage all his recruits at his former school to remain loyal to that program in much the same way they wish Kiffin's recruits would remain loyal to the Vols?

Yeah, right.

What he shouldn't do is bring back David Cutcliffe from Duke. Not because Cut couldn't do the job, but because it would just be too weird. If anyone were going to make that hire it would have to be Fulmer from his possible AD post, and few seriously believe that should happen.

There is one guy out there could make Hamilton look like a genius. Hire former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden and all would be forgiven with most fans. Gruden's the coach Kiffin wants to be when he grows up. Recruits would re-commit. The Vols might actually have a chance to sing "Rocky Top" on their next plane ride home from Florida.

Not that Gruden would solve all of Hamilton's problems. When the Governor says, "I think they clearly have some cleaning up to do in that program," and "I think we'll see sports put into proper context as time goes on," your chair cushion could turn our arctic blast into a heat wave.

But at least the Vols wouldn't have to go far to find an athletic director capable of making the UT program the envy of the land both on and off the court, should that need arise.

Just move Pat Summitt from women's coaching legend to landmark AD hire. She's always had sports in its proper context.

E-mail Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com


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