Phillip Fulmer, the former University of Tennessee football coach, is no longer in coaching, but he was a busy man indeed last week. He started by blasting the "Big Orange" athletic administration in an early-week teleconference interview, then brashly picked Florida's football team to throttle his beloved Vols, and, finally, from his chair as a TV analyst on CBS Saturday, ripped into Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin.
You'll remember that Kiffin took Fulmer's job at UT after the 2008 season when Athletic Director Mike Hamilton fired Phillip. Now Fulmer, who is miffed at just about all and anything that has happened after he spent 16 seasons as the Vols head coach and another 14 before that as an assistant, has jumped back into the pile-up, causing many to wonder if he's not actively politicking for the UT athletic director's job, this especially since Hamilton is the same guy who busted up Fulmer's Shangri-La.
During Saturday's telecast, Phillip didn't waste any time before blasting Kiffin, saying that after just one season in Knoxville, when Kiffin abruptly bolted it was "with basically his hat in his hand and a bunch of NCAA compliance questions."
Fulmer also added, "And often (Kiffin's) arrogant attitude turned people off. The bigger question in my opinion is how does a guy like this end up with two jobs with historic football teams like Tennessee and USC?"
Kiffin was told about Fulmer's attack minutes after Southern Cal's 32-21 win at Minnesota Saturday and he brushed it off, saying, "I have great respect for coach Fulmer and what he did at Tennessee." As for the perception of how he got head coaching jobs with the Oakland Raiders, UT, and now Southern Cal, Kiffin quipped, "I have a good agent."
But Fulmer was just getting started. His sharpest remarks came during a teleconference last week when Phillip was asked about UT's spate of recent troubles. "It’s terrible! It’s hard to watch something you’ve put most of your adult life into and had just played for the (SEC) championship (in 2007) and all of a sudden you’re watching what’s transpiring now throughout the program and an obvious attempt to change the culture of Tennessee football that failed.”
Fulmer's remarks came about a week after the news surfaced that three different sports at Tennessee - football, basketball and baseball - were now under NCAA scrutiny. Basketball coach Bruce Pearl's tearful admission he lied to NCAA investigators could result in a "major violation" and, when a NCAA investigator questioned former Kiffin-era assistant David Reaves, he reportedly said of what could result in an unethical-conduct violation, "It is what it is."
Fulmer is as upset as any UT fan. “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.
"I know that my last few years if you talked about only winning nine, it was an act of terror, and now they’re pushing and hoping to win six (just) to get in a bowl game some way.”
On Saturday UT dropped a 31-17 decision to Florida - the sixth straight to the Gators - and Fulmer bemoaned the chilling 48-13 loss to Oregon the week before. “Derek Dooley has) got lots of challenges around him, internal and otherwise, that people need to give him time and need to support him,” Fulmer said.
"He needs to work like heck to get some more players and to catch up just numbers-wise. I think he’s playing with 76 guys right now through the transition," he explained, UT now 1-2 in mid-September with UAB in Knoxville this Saturday.
“You know, find a way to get better. They’re not showing a lot of progress, or didn’t in the (second half against Oregon). In the first game their girlfriends could have played and probably beat (UT) Martin and then Oregon was obviously better. There’s some teams that will be a little like (UT) as they go through the season and (UT) needs to get those wins.”
In fairness it should be noted that while Fulmer guided UT to the national championship in 1998, his last seven seasons produced no SEC titles, and a 57-32 record (.640). Further, there were two losing seasons in Fulmer's last four years. During the 2009 season, Kiffin's record was 7-6 with a 37-14 loss to Va. Tech in the Chik-fil-A Bowl.
“Obviously the last couple of years, all the uncertainty around the football program, the intent, or the seemingly intent to change the culture of Tennessee football just made it a very divided place. As an alumnus myself, and obviously the years that I served there as an assistant and head coach, it hurts to see those kinds of things going on,” Fulmer said. "Right now Tennessee’s fighting for its identity and its life in the SEC East."
It also appears that Phillip Fulmer is trying to find a way back inside the athletic department door as well.