Blame to go around for Vols' struggles

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
12:44
PM ET
I’m sure Phillip Fulmer’s recent comments about it being difficult for him to see Tennessee struggling like this will raise a few eyebrows on Rocky Top.

After all, there’s a sect of fans (a loud sect) who blame Fulmer for everything that’s remotely gone wrong at Tennessee from the time he was pushed out the door.

I’m sure somehow he’ll get the blame for basketball coach Bruce Pearl lying to the NCAA.

In a CBS teleconference earlier this week, Fulmer said it was “terrible” to see what’s happened to Tennessee’s program and then added, “It’s hard to watch something you’ve put most of your adult life into, and we’d just played for the (SEC) championship (in 2007) and all of a sudden you’re watching what’s transpiring now through the program -- an obvious attempt to change the culture of Tennessee football that failed.”

You don’t have to read between the lines to figure out what Fulmer is saying.

In short, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton felt like he had to bring in somebody as diametrically different from Fulmer as he possibly could -- Lane Kiffin -- and the whole thing wound up being an unmitigated disaster.

The remnants remain in the form of an NCAA investigation.

But let’s be fair here.

Tennessee, coming off its worst beating in Neyland Stadium history against Oregon, didn’t get to this point overnight. Similarly, one person didn’t bring this program down by himself.

Fulmer absolutely deserves part of the blame. After all, the Vols experienced two losing seasons in his last four years on the job. He’s said it himself, that he allowed the program to dip to a point where the brass at Tennessee felt like a change needed to be made.

And don’t kid yourself. Hamilton didn’t make the decision to fire a future Hall-of-Famer like Fulmer himself. He got the green light from most of the prominent power brokers at Tennessee before pulling the trigger.

Of course, the whole Kiffin hire and the fallout that’s come with it, not to mention the basketball program’s NCAA troubles, now has Hamilton in hot water.

If Hamilton doesn’t make it, the Fulmer supporters will push him (and already are in some cases) to be the Vols’ next athletic director.

Fulmer isn’t about to touch that one publicly, but he’s made it clear that he’s on board with Derek Dooley and has asked fans to be patient.

“You’re looking, I think, at a fairly long-term problem, certainly with all the transition that the program has been through in the last couple of years from me to Kiffin, a good number of players that left the program, just I think a general attitude,” Fulmer said. “I know my last few years, if you talked about only winning nine (games), it was an act of terror. And, now, they’re pushing and hoping to win six to get in a bowl game some way.”

He’s right.

Tennessee’s program ain’t close to being what she used to be, and it was Fulmer who helped to create such gaudy standards. That’s what happens when you go 45-5, win two SEC championships and a national championship over a four-year period (1995-98).

It’s debatable whether or not the Vols will ever reach that level of success again.

What’s not debatable is that Fulmer, Kiffin and Hamilton -- each in his own way -- all played a part in this program being where it is today.

The lower echelon of the SEC.

Chris Low | email

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