Phil Fulmer Goes Back to the Future at Tennessee

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The Phil Fulmer curse is real.

Ever since Mike Hamilton fired Phil Fulmer, the Tennessee athletic department has come undone.

With yesterday’s coaching search debacle, the question has to be asked, why not bring back Phil Fulmer, pair him with current LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis and USC assistant Tee Martin, and go back to the future in Vol athletics?

Yep, the Bill Snyder model.

Snyder’s story is well known now, but for those who need a refresher he stepped down in 2005 after going 5-6. Fulmer’s final year was 2008 when he went 5-7. In fact, Snyder’s final several years at Kansas State were worse than Fulmer’s at Tennessee. In his final five years at Tennessee Fulmer went 39-25. In his final five years at Kansas State Bill Snyder went 37-25. 

In both men’s final two years, Fulmer was 15-11 while Snyder was 9-13 

Hell, Fulmer was in the SEC east title game eleven months before UT fired him. He was eight fourth quarter minutes away from upsetting eventual national champion LSU when Erik Ainge threw a pick six.

Snyder was replaced by Ron Prince, who ran up a 17-20 record in three seasons. Fulmer was replaced by a combination of Lane Kiffin for a year and Derek Dooley for three years, the combined record of those men over four years, 22-27, nearly identical .45 winning percentages.

These situations are astoundingly similar.

Except Fulmer is still a decade younger than Snyder and has a better career coaching record at his school than Snyder does.

Hell, at 62, Fulmer is just one year older than Nick Saban.

Plus, if you hired Fulmer I’ve been told by very reliable sources that John Chavis would come back to join him and he’d surround himself with younger former players like Tee Martin and Jay Graham. If you’re worried about the offensive side of the ball you could either keep Jim Chaney in place or you could go hire a young gunner like Kliff Kingsbury and give him a title of coach-in-waiting for as long as Fulmer takes to stabilize the program. Fulmer went 152-52 over his tenure at Tennessee and his defensive coordinator John Chavis has established himself as the best defensive mind in the SEC since Fulmer left.

So you’d have zero concerns about the defense and Fulmer would be affordable enough to hire a really good offensive coordinator.

Plus, Fulmer’s rehiring would make an awful lot of former Tennessee players happy. These Vol players have never gotten over the shabby way they felt Fulmer was shown the door.

Would it really shock people if Fulmer won big again at UT? And would he even have to win big again to stabilize the program? If Fulmer won eight games in 2013, wouldn’t Vol fans be ecstatic? How quickly things change. In the final days of the Fulmer regime fans were up in arms over the idea that he got an automatic contract extension with eight wins. Four years later the Dool-Aid drinkers were ready to put up a statue to Derek Dooley if he won eight games in 2012.

Bill Snyder has proven that you can go back to the future again, with the staff he can put together and his own resume Fulmer is even less of a risk than Snyder was. Much less of a risk, in fact, than many of the unproven coaches that are now on Tennessee’s list to replace Derek Dooley. 

Five of his final 11 years the Vols won the SEC east.

Do you feel like these guys below will do better than that?

Y’all will want a list so here’s my new list of seven names for you :

1. Bobby Petrino

You can read my piece on why Petrino is the best option here.

2. Phil Fulmer

See above article.

3. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

If he wins the bowl game, he’ll have two nine win seasons at Mississippi State in four years.

That’s about as good as you can do at State. 

What could he do in Knoxville, much better.  

4. Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Pluses: he’s 49-18 at Nebraska and has SEC bona fides at LSU.

Minuses: It’s possible he will kill either himself or someone else on the sideline at some point.

5. Larry Fedora, UNC

Pluses: he’s 42-23 as a head coach at Southern Miss and North Carolina and he’s finished with a winning record every season.

Minuses: he’s only been at UNC for a year. Can he win at the big level?

6. Butch Jones, Cincinnati

Pluses: he’s 50-27 as a head coach.

Minuses: he’s followed in Brian Kelly’s footsteps everywhere. Plus, Derek Dooley blew out his Bearcats team in 2011.

Derek Dooley!

7. Al Golden, Miami

Pluses: He’s stablilized two rocky ships, winning at Temple and holding ground at Miami, a complete disaster of a job when he inherited it.

Minuses: His career coaching record is 40-45

After Petrino do you really feel like any of these guys have a resume as good as Phil Fulmer’s?

I don’t.

That’s why it could be time to go back to the future at Tennessee.

End the Fulmer curse by rehiring Fulmer?

Bill Snyder showed us it could work out pretty well.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.