Dear University of Tennessee President, Chancellors, and the Athletic Director Search Committee:
Enough is enough.
The time has come to choke down the misery of the last few years, spearheaded by the incredible mid-season firing of a legendary football coach and punctuated this week by Mike Hamilton’s allegedly self-generated resignation, and to start looking toward the future. After all, after Saturday, what’s the worst thing we have left to face? The only consistently unbesmirched name left in Knoxville is Pat Summitt, and she can’t prop you all up forever.
When Mike Hamilton took over as Athletic Director in 2003, UT athletics were respected, even feared. Aside from the women’s basketball program, where did Hamilton take you? He fired Coach Phillip Fulmer mid-season in such a rude and dismissive fashion that the football players who attended turned their backs on him in open revolt. And with whom did he replace this legend?
Lane Kiffin, son of a legendary father, who only brought to the football program a big mouth, some of the stupidest coaching decisions ever, and the despite of his peers. Then, when Kiffin literally bolted for USC in the middle of the night, leaving Tennessee stranded in the middle of recruitment season with a baker’s dozen of NCAA infractions to boot, Hamilton had no time to conduct a legitimate search for a top tier coach.
He hired Derek Dooley, another scion of another legendary football family but a relatively unproven one. Coach Dooley has brought class back to UT football–a necessary improvement after Kiffin’s loud-mouthed brat fest–but his development as an SEC coach will take time.
Hamilton boasted ad nauseum about his hiring of Bruce Pearl for the men’s basketball team. Pearl brought the Vols to national prominence, but managed to break a buttload of rules along the way. When the NCAA started breathing down his neck he cried, confessed, disintegrated at the end of the season, then got fired in March. Pearl was replaced by Coach Cuonzo Martin, who hopefully will bring the same energy to Knoxville that he did at Missouri State, but his story has just started to be written.
Oh, and let’s not forget that a few weeks ago, Todd Raleigh was relieved of his coaching responsibilities for the baseball team. That means we’ll have to try and find a baseball coach and an athletic director at the same time.
Tennessee needs someone at the helm of the athletic department who can bring integrity back to the Volunteers. Tennessee needs an AD who knows Knoxville, who knows our recruting strongholds and, above all, knows how to win with class and graciousness and within the rules of the governing organization.
Tennessee needs someone heading up the athletic department that its players, students, and fans can trust. The best thing I can say about this whole mess is thank God Mike Hamilton isn’t heading up the search. Because we don’t need an AD in July. We need one now, to get the athletic departments back in shape, to support the coaches and teams as we approach the upcoming scholastic year and the beginning of fall sports, to reassure the fans and bring pride back to Rocky Top.
And since I don’t think Pat Summitt wants a promotion, there’s only one name that can possibly fill that spot.
So I’m hoping that you, the shapers of the University of Tennessee’s athletic future, are smart enough this time to realize that the only possible candidate who can step in (after the NCAA hands down its sanctions on Saturday) and bring the Vols back up from the brink is Phillip Fulmer.
In a way, you owe it to him. You’ve owed this opportunity to Fulmer since the day you let that idiot Hamilton drive him out of Knoxville like he was the worst coach in college football instead of one of the winningest coaches in the history of the game. You’ve owed Phil Fulmer this job since he’s steadfastly remained unmoved by all the other head coaching opportunities available since the afternoon of that nasty press conference, staying true to the school that’s always been in his heart. And you damn well owe it to us, the fans and supporters of the Tennessee athletic programs, to place a man whose integrity and love for the traditions of Tennessee are legendary (Particularly since you inflicted Lane Kiffin on us for a whole year. Some of us are going to have a hard time ever forgiving you for that).
Some of my fondest memories are of sitting in Neyland Stadium, listening to 100,000 tipsy tailgaters singing Rocky Top at the tops of their lungs while Coach Fulmer led his team–our team–out onto the field, running through the T and then calling everyone to order on the sidelines. It’s a sight I’ve witnessed multiple times. It’s a sight I’ve missed.
So yes–if you want to make it up to us for the horrors you’ve forced us to endure since Hamilton’s hiring in 2003, here’s your chance. Fulmer would spill his blood for the University of Tennessee, and his blood runs orange and white.
So do all your long-suffering fans a big favor: don’t screw THIS up. Do the right thing for the first time in almost a decade. And do it quick.
The people who pay your salaries