The feeling around the Tennessee athletic department shifted drastically in December of 2017 when Phillip Fulmer was named the new Athletic Director, replacing John Currie after a disastrous coaching search. Relief hit first for most Vol fans and then hope. I thought the University of Tennessee had finally made a decision that could move the Volunteer athletic department forward without taking steps back. I didn’t think that Phillip Fulmer would always make the right decision but I did know that he would always make the decision that he felt was best for the Tennessee Volunteers.
As a matter of fact, you cannot find a person who is more of a Tennessee Volunteer than Coach Fulmer. At the age of 66 he has spent 32 years of his life at Tennessee in some capacity. As a player, he was an All-SEC offensive guard on an SEC Championship team and finishing with a 30-5 record in his playing career. As a coach, he went 152-52 with 5 SEC East titles, 2 SEC Championships, and a National Championship in 1998. As an Athletic Director, well, the jury is still out but it certainly hasn’t been a failure.
It’s no secret that the Tennessee football program was falling apart and the athletic department as a whole wasn’t much better. Since the firing of Phillip Fulmer the football program was a tough 62-63 in all games and had only managed to appear in 5 bowl games over 11 years under 3 different coaches. To put that into perspective the 10 years after the Vols won a national championship they went 85-41 and appeared in 8 bowl games over 10 years under Phillip Fulmer. It’s not terribly difficult to point where the UTAD went wrong but it didn’t happen with one decision. Several times Mike Hamilton or Dave Hart and the school administration had a chance to salvage the wreck and it never happened. Was it because of inept administrators, egos, or money? I believe it all played a role in where we are today.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the football program. The men’s basketball program had struggled since the Bruce Pearl era, which ended with a show clause and multiple violations. Cuonzo Martin only brought one NCAA tournament appearance which saw a promising run come to an end at the hands of Michigan and NCAA basketball officials. After the Vols were bounced in the 2014 sweet sixteen Martin left for Cal. Dave Hart made the hiring of Donnie Tyndall because of poor vetting which eventually led to his firing after an NCAA show clause. They do say everything happens for a reason and you have to believe it after Tennessee lucked into a Rick Barnes hire. Barnes who had made the NCAA 16 time through 17 years at Texas was fired in Austin and soon landed in Knoxville.
Not many sports thrived the last decade in Knoxville. Football and basketball are just a preview of the ineptitude of the Tennessee athletic department. You can point to many areas and see that the support from the administration wasn’t there. Thats different now. Phillip Fulmer has changed that. He has shown a commitment to all sports. He has proven that Tennessee is ready to support all sports while first fixing the revenue sports. It’s not just my opinion that the UTAD is improving. Tennessee finished at 25 in the Director’s Cup for the 2018-2019 year up from 35 the previous year. I’m excited to see what all sports do in the 2019-2020 seasons. The only place we’ll see a new face is with the Lady Vols basketball team, Kelly Harper(Jolly) will replace Holly Warlick. Every other sport on campus will retain their previous head coach. Here is how Tennessee fared in the 2018-2019 seasons. Keep in mind these are team finishes. Many of the sports had individuals finish their seasons off with impressive wins.
Basketball: 31-6 (NCAA Sweet Sixteen)
Women’s Basketball: 19-13 (NCAA 1st round)
Baseball: 40-21 (NCAA Regional)
Softball: 43-17 (NCAA Super Regionals)
Volleyball: 26-6 (NCAA 2nd round)
Men’s Swimming & Diving: (SEC 3rd) (NCAA 11th)
Women’s Swimming & Diving: (SEC 4th) (NCAA 8th)
Men’s Golf: (SEC T-5th) (NCAA Regional)
Women’s Golf: (SEC 10th) (NCAA Championships 24th)
Men’s Tennis: Fall (SEC Semi-final) (NCAA Round of 32) Spring (SEC Final) (NCAA Round of 16)
Women’s Tennis: Fall (NCAA 1st round) Spring (NCAA 2nd round)
Men’s Cross Country: (SEC 4th) (4th NCAA South Regional)
Women’s Cross Country: (SEC 7th) (7th NCAA South Regional)
Men’s Track & Field: (SEC Indoor 7th Outdoor 6th) (NCAA Indoor T-40th Outdoor T-55th)
Women’s Track & Field: (SEC Indoor 11th Outdoor 4th) (NCAA Indoor T-53rd Outdoor T-25th)
Each week this year I will recap how each Tennessee sport did in their respective areas. Also, I’ll look at the athletic department as a whole. That means new hirings, firings & renovations. Look for them to be released to catch up on everything happening on campus in Knoxville.
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