April 18, 2024

Rocky Topics: Should Tennessee hire Phillip Fulmer as its next athletic director?

This week on Rocky Topics, Jonathan Johnson and Jake Nichols delve into a discussion plaguing many fans across Vol Nation: Should Tennessee bring in Phillip Fulmer to head its athletic department?

Photo by Sumner Gilliam.

Dawn at Neyland Stadium before Tennessee's game against Florida on Sept. 24, 2016. Photo by Sumner Gilliam.

On this week’s installment of Rocky Topics, Jonathan Johnson and Jake Nichols debate whether or not Tennessee’s athletic director vacancy would be best filled by former football head coach Phillip Fulmer.

Johnson: The search for the new athletic director for Tennessee seems like it will never come to a conclusion. Dave Hart announced his retirement back in August, yet it seems like the school is nowhere closer to finding his replacement. A name that has been discussed recently for the position is former Tennessee football head coach Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer’s legacy as a coach speaks for itself, as he was in charge of the football team for the legendary 1998 season. Even after he resigned from Tennessee, Fulmer has continued to support of the university and all of its athletics. It seems evident that he wants what is best for the school, so it would be natural for fans to want him to replace Dave Hart, the guy some call “Bammer Dave.” But the truth is, the only real qualification Fulmer has is that he is a “Tennessee guy.” And if that’s his only qualification, then it can be said that there thousands more out there. Fulmer has not had any experience running an athletic department, and while I think he would do well with the football program, he has never had any experience with sports like basketball or baseball. That seems problematic to me.

Nichols: JJ, while your point that Fulmer has no experience coaching sports like basketball or baseball is valid, his overall experience as a coach and the knowledge of what words will best motivate those under him to succeed are vital to his success. Fulmer led the Tennessee football program from 1992-2007, and while he posted one of the most successful tenures in Big Orange history, he also suffered a fair share of losses that led to discussions concerning his resignation. Fulmer was hailed as a coach, yes, but the toughest losses to swallow for both him and then-athletic director Mike Hamilton proved the most powerful. Following those losses, many called for the former coach’s head on message boards across the country (since Twitter wasn’t nearly as big in those days). Using the treatment he received during the toughest stretches of his career as an example, Fulmer can decide how to deal with each program. Sports are different in terms of rules and scoring, but coaches relate well to each other no matter the sport. Having coached from 1973 to 2007 at Wichita State, Vanderbilt and, finally, Tennessee, no one knows this better than Fulmer himself.

Fulmer is a “Tennessee guy,” yes, but he is also much more than that. He has donated to countless charities, does speaking engagements across the region, and he relates well to Vols fans of all ages. His on-field successes and legacy speak for themselves, but the impact he has made outside the arena of football is one that should not be taken lightly.

Also, Fulmer possesses a Southern twang and personable demeanor that have always been taken well with Tennessee’s fanbase. But, considering his other abilities, those are really just icing on the cake.

Johnson: If Tennessee fans are desperate to have a “Tennessee guy” then there is an easy solution. And that solution comes from Chattanooga, Tennessee. David Blackburn should be the new AD at Tennessee, and it’s not that hard of a decision to make. Fans that want the person with ties to the university are getting exactly that with Blackburn. He is a Tennessee graduate and has served, in some capacity, in Tennessee’s athletic department before. It would take him very little time at all to get adjusted to his new surroundings. And unlike Fulmer, Blackburn has experience as an AD. In the recent Director’s Cup rankings of athletics, Blackburn’s Chattanooga actually finished ahead of Tennessee despite having less resources and revenue. That is proof enough to realize that no matter how much Phillip Fulmer has done for Tennessee, David Blackburn should be the guy in Knoxville and it’s not that hard of a call.

Nichols: The last two athletic directors at Tennessee were employed in several different athletic departments for numbers of years before arriving on Rocky Top. Mike Hamilton had been on the Volunteers’ athletic staff for 11 years prior to his hiring, while Dave Hart (better known as “Bammer Dave”) had “previously held leadership roles in athletics administration at East Carolina University, Florida State University and the University of Alabama,” according to utsports.com. By contrast, Hamilton’s predecessor as Athletic Director was none other than Doug Dickey.

Following a successful career as head football coach at Tennessee, Dickey moved on to his alma mater in Gainesville, Florida, to assume the same position for the Gators. Dickey was replaced as Florida’s head coach after a dismal 1978 season, but in 1985, approximately 15 years after leaving, Dickey returned to Knoxville to become Tennessee’s newest athletic director. As the Volunteers’ men’s AD, Dickey oversaw the success of Fulmer’s program, as well as many others. What better way to bring this program out of the ashes, then, than by placing another former coach at the helm of the athletic department? Fulmer knows how to relate to coaches, players, media and, finally, fans, better than anyone else the search committee could hope for, and he would make an excellent impact as the next athletic director at the University of Tennessee, his own alma mater.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Sumner Gilliam

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Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!