Phil Fulmer has had a hand in the recent coaching developments of both the Tennessee and ETSU football programs. And has been treated with kid gloves.
East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia sports fans tend to be overly optimistic.
That probably beats overly pessimistic, but nothing could prove this more than the events of the past several days.
On Dec.1, Phil Fulmer is hired as athletic director at the University of Tennessee to hire a football coach for the Volunteers.
On Dec. 8, Fulmer’s first hire for a football head coach, Carl Torbush, who Fulmer had a major role bringing to East Tennessee State when Fulmer was a consultant for the Buccaneers’ program, retired as ETSU football coach with an 11–22 record during a three year tenure.
How anyone can ignore this link? How often was John Currie’s handling of Frank Martin’s departure to South Carolina used against the former Tennessee athletic director, even though Currie hired a good coach in Bruce Weber who had taken a team to the NCAA Tournament finals and now has taken Kansas State to three NCAA Tournament appearances?
Yet Fulmer’s failure in his coaching hire was largely ignored by Vols faithful, be they fans or in the media.
Mind you, this is not a prediction of doom for new Vols head football coach Jeremy Pruitt. A team could far do worse than bringing the defensive coordinator of a college football dynasty for the ages in as head coach.
But Fulmer also hired a coach Mississippi State interviewed and turned down for Joe Moorhead.
Has Tennessee’s place in SEC hierarchy fallen so far they are now hiring the rejected coaches of Mississippi State?
The good feeling of hiring Fulmer as athletic director stems solely from the fact he won a national championship in Knoxville 20 years ago. But he’s done little as an administrator, and his work as an ETSU consultant must now be considered suspect considering the program’s won-loss record.
Just three seasons after the program’s revival, ETSU football has become an afterthought in the Tri-Cities and fans are getting sick of the propaganda the program puts out.
For instance, even after the season ending loss to Chattanooga, Torbush spoke of building his program the right way by disdaining transfers.
Yet his team had 13 transfers on it. Yet Kennesaw State, who beat the Bucs 56–16 in the first game for both respective programs three years ago with 22 transfers on their roster, is now in the FCS semifinals while ETSU fell from 5–6 to 4–7.
Who believes ETSU anymore? Not 17 redshirt juniors, who declared they’d leave the program early following the season.
Maybe that’s why fans didn’t seem to show up in the numbers one would figure a brand new stadium would draw.
My hope is Scott Carter will hire a charismatic man to lead the ETSU football program. Torbush was a gentleman but also a bit stuffy, eliminating the playing of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” when the Bucs went on to the field, for instance.
I loved how Torbush suspended two key players after stiffing a cab driver prior to a big game, ETSU’s 26–20 overtime triumph against Mercer. But Torbush also had to dismiss two of his assistant coaches after they were arrested.
Fans may dislike the perception of ETSU as just a stepping stone for bigger programs, but that has also been reality.
So if Carter, a Knoxville native who worked in the athletic department of the University of Tennessee for a decade, hires a good coach that turns the ETSU football program around, and Fulmer’s second hire produces the same record his first did, you don’t suppose Carter could be succeeding Fulmer as Vols athletic director in a couple of years, could you?
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