Tennessee’s Most Painful Losses Since Fulmer

Since Phillip Fulmer was forced out of Knoxville, the University of Tennessee’s fanbase has swallowed some of the most painful defeats in the program’s history.

How is that such a proud program with such rich football tradition gets to the point Volunteer football has reached? If you believe in superstitions, you’ll say it’s karma. That’s what they get for firing Fulmer! You may be right, but hopefully Vol fans can find comfort in the cyclical nature of college football. 

Auburn posted a 3-9 record just two seasons after winning the BCS National Championship! In 2011, Arkansas soared up to #3 in the BCS standings by Thanksgiving. Where is that program now? For goodness’ sake, look at Vanderbilt! 

Think Alabama hasn’t suffered through a similar situation? Two words: Mike. Shula. Remember when the Crimson Tide lost the Music City Bowl to Minnesota?! In 2000, the team was blanked by Southern Miss….And, dare I bring it up, Louisiana-Monroe (2007). I just made Alabama fans cringe.

That’s what Volunteer fans are feeling right now. Rest assured, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. My argument is that Saturday’s loss to Georgia is that light. But, what brought the Tennessee program to that point? 

Here are the top 7 cringeworthy games since Phillip Fulmer was exiled from Knoxville.

7. 2013 – Georgia 34 Tennessee 31

This is likely the least painful for Vols fans to endure, for the simple reason that the team had an excellent chance to win this game. Unlike some of the other games on this list, the result provided a beacon of hope for the future. Such a close effort has to spark confidence, with the team realizing that they almost beat the sixth ranked team in the nation…. a team who still has legitimate BCS title hopes. 

6. 2012 – Vanderbilt 41 Tennessee 18

“The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the (expletive) out of Vandy!” Remember when Derek Dooley proclaimed this? James Franklin responded to the tune of 41 points and a total shutdown of a potent Vols offense. At this point in the season, fans knew Dooley was on his coaching death bed. Still, such a loss to “little brother” Vanderbilt was hard to stomach for Tennessee fans. 

5. 2013 – Oregon 59 Tennessee 14

The Oregon Ducks absolutely pulled the Vols’ pants down in front of the home crowd in Eugene, OR. I contend that Tennessee had absolutely nothing to gain by taking this game in the first place. For fans who remember the glory days in Knoxville, watching your team endure its worst loss in 108 years can’t be easy.

4. 2011 – North Carolina 30 Tennessee 27 – Music City Bowl

In what could and should have been a nice cap to Derek Dooley’s rookie season as head coach, the Vols fell victim to Big Ten officiating. Yep, leave it to the Big Ten. The game should have ended Volunteers 20 Tar Heels 17. However, because of one of the most bizarre calls in recent memory, North Carolina was called back onto the field to even the score with a field goal, forcing overtime, and eventually, a win for the Tar Heels. Ouch.

3. 2009 – Alabama 12 Tennessee 10

The third Saturday in October is one of the most circled dates on Southerners’ calendar, and for good reason.  Alabama/Tennessee is one of the nation’s oldest and fiercest rivalries. So when Tennessee hung around with the eventual BCS Championship-winning Crimson Tide, the emotional investment skyrocketed. In Lane Kiffin’s first year, he was seen as the man who would resurrect the Vols program to greatness. This game was going to be his signature win! And then, “Rocky Block” ensued. On the field goal that would’ve won the game for Tennessee, Terrence Cody put his canoe sized arm up and batted the ball back down. We all know how that season ended for Lane Kiffin but I’ve stirred up Vols fans enough… I’ll leave the topic of Lane Kiffin alone.

2. 2010 – LSU 16 Tennessee 14

Ah the “too many men on the field” penalty. Let’s set the scene…. LSU has the ball on the Tennessee 1-yard line. It’s 3rd and goal, and the Tigers are down 14-10, needing a touchdown on THIS play to win…. and a mishandled snap causes the clock to wind down to triple zeroes and a Vols win! Tennessee fans are jubilant! Until flags are thrown and refs inform Coach Dooley that there were too many men on the field. So the Tigers line back up, Stevan Ridley pounds the ball in, and LSU remains undefeated. Heartbreaking.

1. 2011 – Kentucky 10 Tennessee 7

Can it get any worse than losing to a team you have defeated for 26 straight years? Yes… yes, it can. Kentucky was starting a wide receiver at quarterback, and that wide receiver ended the Vols’ bowl hopes. Tennessee hadn’t lost on the road to Kentucky since 1981. That’s 30 years! It also marked the Volunteers’ second consecutive losing season… for the first time since 1910-11. This loss quite simply broke the backs of fans on Rocky Top and ultimately sealed Derek Dooley’s fate the following year. 

It hasn’t been an easy five years for Tennessee, but I’ll say that Butch Jones seems to have the team heading in the right direction. The Volunteers played better on Saturday than any Derek Dooley or Lane Kiffin team would have. 

Stay patient, Knoxville.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.