You probably had to pinch yourself a few times.
There was Chancellor Beverly Davenport at Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio, not announcing Tennessee’s next head football coach, but Tennessee’s newest athletic director – Phillip Fulmer.
That’s right, the Phillip Fulmer, the same one who led the Vols to their most recent National Championship in 1998. The one who was fired a decade later. He replaces John Currie, who ironically enough, was extremely influential in Fulmer’s firing nine years ago.
Currie’s departure comes after the most unprecedented coaching search debacles in the history of college athletics. Given what we know (or, at least, think we know) about what’s transpired since Sunday, that’s no hyperbole.
Ultimately, Currie was the scapegoat of a larger institutional problem. Even though he signed off the hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano – who has close ties with powerful booster/de facto athletic director Jimmy Haslam – Currie clearly learned from his supposed error, following that collapsed deal with aggressive pursuits of Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren, and most recently, Mike Leach.
On Thursday night, it appeared a deal with Leach was imminent, but Davenport reportedly rejected the deal and suspended Currie the following morning.
When pressed on the Leach issue at Friday’s press conference, Davenport didn’t say anything verbally, but her tense reaction exposed the grim reality behind Tennessee’s athletic department – it isn’t operated by the right people.
Had full control been placed in Currie’s hands from the beginning, Tennessee wouldn’t be in its current predicament, which is with a first-time athletic director masking problems that haven’t vanished.
Fulmer is a Tennessee guy – something the fans wanted. However, we don’t know to what extent (if any) Haslam’s power has decreased. After all, his wealth is his weapon. It has nuclear-bomb level strength.
But fans believe that Fulmer can challenge the status quo because of his popularity and regain complete control of the program. If he manages to pull that off, is the damage inflicted on the program over the past five days even irreversible?
Whether fans want to admit it or not, the actions taken on Sunday altered the national perspective of Tennessee’s program. It’s become a punch line – considered by some to be the biggest joke in sports.
There’s a valid argument to support that claim. Had the Schiano hire gone through, fans would’ve been outraged, but Tennessee would be in a much more stable position than it currently is. Now, there’s a lack of trust within the program, constant communication breakdowns, and a naive sense that Fulmer is a guaranteed savior.
Yet, he doesn’t have any timetable of when the next head coach will be hired, and he’s thrown into a job he’s never done before under circumstances no experienced athletic director would be envy of.
Narrowing this down to its simplest form, Tennessee is begging to return to glory. That’s the genesis of every ounce of frustration. It’s built up for the past decade. This week, enough was enough for many people, and it resulted in an implosion that is potentially detrimental to the on-field product.
Alabama still has Nick Saban. Georgia still has Kirby Smart. Florida now has Dan Mullen. Tennessee might have Phillip Fulmer “running the show,” but they still don’t have a head coach, and if he can’t find one who can win consistently on Saturdays, then was any of this actually worth it?
Photo Credit: Calvin Mattheis (Knoxville News Sentinel)