Wiedmer: Phillip Fulmer needs to dress like an athletic director rather than a coach

Former Tennessee coach and current athletic director Phillip Fulmer, left, talks with former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier before an NCAA college football game between Florida and Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pale orange ballcap? Check. Pale orange or white short-sleeved knit shirt, remarkably similar to the ones University of Tennessee football coaches wear? Check. Pale orange windbreaker, also quite similar to those often worn by UT's coaches? Check.

Closely study UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer's game-day attire the past few weeks and he has begun to far more closely resemble the Big Orange head football coach he used to be rather than the job title he now holds.

And that image is causing quite a stir in media circles, where everyone from national sports columnist Pete Thamel to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's gifted Mark Bradley to award-winning Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist John Adams has begun to wonder if Fulmer might fire current Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt before the end of October and return himself to the position he held for 16 seasons.

On resume alone it somewhat makes sense. Fulmer won 152 games and the 1998 national championship during his lengthy career. The Vols' record over the 10-plus seasons since he was forced out at the close of the 2008 season is an overwhelmingly underwhelming 63-66. So theoretically, the 69-year-old Fulmer might - emphasis on "might" - be an improvement.

photo AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer stands on the sideline during the first half of the Vols' 2019 football season opener against Georgia State.

After all, Alabama coach Nick Saban will turn 68 on Halloween. Just because you're getting older doesn't mean you can't get better.

That said, the last thing this thus-far-terrible Tennessee team needs is another coaching change. Pruitt's only four games into his second season, and lest the Big Orange Nation forget, he's in charge for two reasons. The first is that former coach Butch Jones had to go after overseeing a team that would lose all eight of its Southeastern Conference games in 2017. The second is that for whatever reason - money, lack of administrative leadership before Fulmer rather shockingly replaced John Currie as AD in the middle of the coaching search to replace Jones, fan and booster interference - no one else wanted the job.

No. One. Else.

Does that mean Pruitt was the best Fulmer could do after weeks of rejection? Perhaps not. That argument is useless. Pruitt is the guy Fulmer tabbed in December of 2017. Pruitt is the guy the UT fan base needs to back rather than stab in the back.

Again, Pruitt's been on the job all of 16 games. Sure, 10 have been losses. Sure, it all appears to be going in the wrong direction, his coaching moves to date often as incoherent as his grammar, which often appears to have stopped advancing in second grade.

But his early recruiting has shown promise. His past assistant gigs have won him national championship rings. His current staff seems to be made of folks who've been considered big winners in the past, especially offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, whom Fulmer agreed last winter to pay a stunning $1.5 million a year in order to lure him from Georgia.

To be fair, Fulmer repeatedly has said he's done with coaching. He's talked of spending more time with his kids, his grandkids and his wife. He's hinted he no longer has the energy required to recruit, coach and schmooze the boosters in the 13-months-a-year, eight-days-a-week SEC.

And you hope he's telling the truth. But then there's that slap on the wrist he reportedly received from the NCAA after he was seen working with UT's offensive linemen last year, a clear no-no.

photo Mark Wiedmer

There's also that faux coaching attire he's been wearing on game days this season. Then there are the past rumors that he stabbed Johnny Majors in the back in 1992 to get the UT head coaching post. And that he didn't exactly support Currie during his time as AD.

No one could deny that UT football definitely needs to reverse course. Quickly. Maybe Pruitt's the man to make that happen and maybe he isn't. But given all that had gone wrong for so long before he arrived - he's the Vols' fifth head coach since the start of the 2008 season - and given the Vols' two wins over ranked conference foes a year ago under his watch, 16 games is too small a sample size to make that determination.

Besides, as bad as the Vols have looked, at least five of their remaining opponents - Alabama-Birmingham, Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt - haven't exactly mimicked juggernauts. No matter what happens at home against No. 3 Georgia or on the road at No. 2 Alabama and dangerous Missouri, if the Vols can find a way to beat the Blazers, Wildcats, MSU Bulldogs, Gamecocks and Commodores, they'll reach a bowl game, which would be heady stuff after this embarrassing 1-3 start.

It's often been said that you should dress for the job you want rather than the job you have. For the future of Tennessee football, Volniacs everywhere best hope that Fulmer's recent game-day attire has been a wardrobe malfunction rather than a subliminal signal regarding the job he secretly desires.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.