Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport sat next to former football coach and new athletic director Phillip Fulmer and tried to explain how Volunteers can move forward after a week that has humiliated the program, the school and the state. Early in the day, Davenport had ruled out athletic director John Currie, a man she hired less than a year ago. Davenport eluded questions about why he fired Currie, each time he retreated to a version of the same commonplace. "We are here today," said Davenport, "to begin a new era and a new opportunity to advance at the University of Tennessee."
That will never happen if Tennessee continues to operate the way it has throughout this decade. Its leaders have not sung from the same hymnal in years. But there is a group that the people in charge should look at if they want to learn something about unity.
The only group that has been unified throughout this process is the grbadroots base Tennessee supporters. On Sunday, he got up and rejected the idea of hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Despite being separated by age and distance, fans were the only people affiliated with the school who managed to speak with one voice. All those fans want Tennessee to win football games. Unlike many of the people in charge, they have no ulterior motive. They have spent their money and their time because they love the Vols. Unfortunately for them, the people in charge of leading the program were much more concerned with protecting their different fiefs than with creating an environment where the Tennessee soccer program could flourish.
But that has been the history of Tennessee athletics for some time. Whether it was the women's athletics department against the men's athletics department or Fulmer against former AD Mike Hamilton or the Haslam family against other big donors, nobody seems able to follow the same path. On Friday, Fulmer revealed one of his favorite sayings. "It's amazing what can be achieved," he said, "when nobody cares who gets the credit." Probably not the best thing to say after a palace coup, but in fact it is wise advice. If Fulmer can convince everyone in Tennessee's administration and donor base to follow him, there may be a way out of this mess.
It's time for the warring factions in Tennessee to put aside their differences and act in the best interest of the program. Maybe Fulmer can point everyone in the same direction. As he said, he has seen Tennessee athletics at its best. "I've seen what honest communication, trust and hard work accomplish," said Fulmer. Unfortunately for the Vols, the first two on the Fulmer list have been in short supply.
Both factions in Friday's drama quickly painted the other side as the villain, but consider the people and their motives before handing out white hats and black hats. Most likely, everyone is wearing Smoky Gray.
We'll start with Fulmer. The best football coach in Tennessee in the modern era was left unmercifully after a defeat to South Carolina at the end of the 2008 season. The program had slipped from its dominant peak in the 90s, but Fulmer was also just One year of the SEC East title. (The last Tennessee title in the East SEC.) One of the people most involved in Fulmer's firing was Currie, and then Hamilton's first lieutenant. Currie's job was to raise money, and it costs money to fire a trainer and hire a new one. Meanwhile, Jim Haslam, the former Tennessee soccer player who founded the chain of Pilot service stations and the most powerful driver in Tennessee, did not intervene to save Fulmer's work. Those injuries were profound for a man who had spent most of his adult life working for Tennessee.
Fast forward to 2016. Fulmer and the Tennessee administration had not only come to an arrest, but the time seemed right for the coach to play. a bigger paper there. When sports director Dave Hart announced his resignation, Fulmer threw his hat in the ring for work. He had the support of some influential donors, as well as former soccer players and grbadroots fans. For a while, he seemed the best candidate. But suddenly, the search went to Currie, who had told people previously that she did not expect Tennessee to consider it because of the friction with Fulmer. Being drugged again had to be overwhelming for Fulmer, who never stopped believing he knew how to return Tennessee football to prominence.
Now let's consider Currie's side. He was doing his job in 2008. Hamilton decided to fire Fulmer, and Currie followed the instructions. Then, Currie became the athletic director of Kansas State, where he was a fundraising dynamo who handled several financial scandals, straightened the balance sheet and oversaw mbadive renovations to Bill Snyder Family Stadium and the construction of a beautiful operations building soccer. He also played with Snyder, the legendary soccer coach, and let the men's basketball coach, Frank Martin, leave for South Carolina after several clashes. He was offered the position in Tennessee last year – as the preferred candidate of the Haslam family – and had the opportunity to return to a place that loved working with a salary he never imagined he would earn. Who would not accept the job? Maybe I should have considered that if the balance of power ever bent, it could be rejected, but how could I reject the opportunity? [ÉlylosHaslamsmalinterpretarondemaneradramáticalabasedeseguidorescuandointentaroncontrataraSchianoylaelecciónPlantearonpreguntbadobresiCurrieylosquelorespaldabanentendíaneltrabajodeentrenadordefútboldeTennesseeenabsolutoSchianoesunexcelenteentrenadorqueunavezdiovidaaunmoribundoprogramadeRutgersperotambiéntieneunahistoriadeobsesiónporlosdetallesmáspequeñossinimportarcuáninsignificanteseaAlguienconesapersonalidadodiaríatrabajarenlapeceraqueesKnoxvilleLosfanáticosentendieronesto¿Porquénolaspersonasacargo?PerodespuésderetirarsedeltratoconSchianoCurrieencontróunentrenadorqueganójuegosytieneunapersonalidadqueencajaríaenKnoxvilleVolóaCaliforniayentrevistóaMikeLeachdelestadodeWashingtoneljuevesyambosacordaronllegaraunacuerdoPeroluegoCurriefueconvocadoderegresoaKnoxvilleElviernesfuesuspendidoconpago
Currie will be dismissed soon. Davenport said Friday that the school did not have "all the financial details resolved" for his departure. If you are fired without cause, Tennessee owes you more than $ 5 million. If he gets fired for a cause, Tennessee would have to show that he did more than just try to hire a football coach (that was his job). "He was given full authority," said Davenport, "to find the best coach for Tennessee." Until he did not. If Tennessee tries to fire Currie for a cause, the school will probably end up writing a check before he can say "on Discovery." The winners, as usual, would be billable hours.
Now Fulmer must go ahead and find the best coach. Leach still wants to be considered. Would Fulmer consider his former field marshall Tee Martin, who now runs the USC offensive? We'll see. What about the Wake Forest coach, Dave Clawson, who is working miracles at the smallest school of the Power Five? Clawson's name is still cursed in Tennessee because he was hired to run the offensive the year Fulmer was fired. But perhaps Fulmer, who would know better than anyone what really went wrong in 2008, can soften the bad memories between fans and donors. Or maybe it's a wild card. Several accomplished trainers are waiting to see what happens with the Florida State job, which opened on Friday when Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A & M. Only one person will get it, and the two best candidates appear to be Willie Taggart of Oregon and Justin Source of Virginia Tech. Once the state of Florida decides, Tennessee – and probably the school that loses its coach for the state of Florida – will have the best job available.
And Tennessee is a good job. The list needs less work than Florida. The SEC East is still behind the West, even though Kirby Smart could be building a power plant in Georgia and Dan Mullen should change things in Gainesville. Tennessee has to play the soul destroyer Alabama every year, but a good contract could turn a 4-8 team that did not win a conference in a nine-win team quite quickly. That will be Fulmer's charge now. A sports director's watch begins to mark the moment he makes his first football contract, so Fulmer will not have a grace period. If hired correctly, it will be the great unifying force and hailed as the man who saved Tennessee football. If you hire poorly, you probably know how Currie felt on Friday.
More than anything, Fulmer needs everyone in Tennessee to go in the same direction before hiring the next coach. The factions obtained the Vols here, and only by working together will they take them out. They need to follow the example of their fans, who showed more unity this week than the people who run Tennessee have shown in 10 years.