The Great Punkin Returneth…

Well, in case you hadn’t heard, Phillip Fulmer (a/k/a “the Great Punkin”) has been selected as the 2009 recipient of the Robert R. Neyland Trophy.  Fulmer will be formally presented the award at the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame awards brunch on Saturday morning.  Fulmer will also be honored on the field prior to the start of this weekend’s Orange and White game.  This award, named in honor of General Neyland, has been awarded by the Knoxville Quarterback Club for the last 44 years.

This year’s choice has a few people upset, or at least scratching their heads a bit.

It is hard to argue with Fulmer deserving the award.  The issue for some folks is the the timing, because now Coach Fulmer will be honored immediately prior to Lane Kiffin’s debut as the head coach of the Volunteers—the same team that Fulmer coached up until the end of last season.  One need look no farther than any of the various Tennessee web forums and blogs to see the proverbial “lines in the sand” being drawn by fans on both sides.

Never afraid to make a public statement when called upon to do so, the Blackjack General commented on the matter earlier today :

Coach Fulmer has had a tremendous impact on Tennessee.  He’s the second-winningest coach in Tennessee history behind General Neyland. It’s only fitting that he receives this prestigious award. I hope all Tennessee fans will show up early Saturday to show their appreciation for all he has done for our program, our university and our state.

Lane Kiffin: Commenting on Coach Fulmer being honored prior to the Orange and White Game | GoVols Xtra

Some will say (or already have) that the timing of Fulmer’s selection was intentional—that this was an orchestrated barb at the athletic department (most pointedly at Smiling Mike Hamilton) from Fulmer supporters on the Neyland Trophy committee.  Others will say that the award amounts to little more than incurable homerism on the part of some who refuse to let Coach Fulmer go.  On the other side, there is the argument that Coach Fulmer was an immensely successful coach and earned the award fairly, and that it is fitting he be receive the award at the first appropriate opportunity—the first year after he leaves Tennessee.  Others still will say that the only reason that some are complaining is because they fired a good coach and they know it.

Either way, it makes for some high drama…

I for one don’t see what the big deal is either way.  Lane Kiffin had nothing to do with Phillip Fulmer’s ouster.  Phillip Fulmer was a great coach for the Vols and remains a loyal Tennessean—I respect the man for what he has done.  Coach Kiffin has had to deal with much worse, as has Coach Fulmer.  There is no reason in this instance why the orange-clad faithful can’t have their cake and eat it to.

In my opinion, the “controversy” over this is nothing more than a few people with axes to grind on both sides of the fence trying to create a storm for/against Coach Fulmer being honored or for / against Coach Kiffin taking “the greensward of Shields-Watkins Field” for the first time.  What I haven’t heard from anyone is this:

The politicization of this event by “factions” does nothing but dishonor the memory of one person: General Robert R. Neyland.

The Neyland Trophy was created to honor the General’s legacy, and to preserve his mark on the landscape of college football.  To try and turn this award into a circus is, to me, repugnant.  To anyone that would add fuel to the fire in either direction and not support both Fulmer and Kiffin, I say “shame on you.” It is bad for the fanbase, it is bad for Tennessee, it is bad for Coach Fulmer, and it is bad for Coach Kiffin.  In my opinion it is wrong.

There is no reason that the fans cannot cheer their former coach for winning the Neyland Trophy and then, five minutes later, cheer their current coach as he brings his team out on to the field.  In the process of doing both, those cheers also honor General Neyland.  I support both Fulmer and Kiffin.  I also support preserving Neyland’s place in the pantheon of the game I love.

More than any of that, however, I support Tennessee first and foremost…

It is not about either man, it is not about making a statement for or against one coach or the other, it is not about using the event as a bully pulpit.  It is about supporting your team, your school, your “family,” and doing what is right.

So, who do you support?

– So it goes…About Lawvol

About the Author: "Lawvol" -- I'm just a guy living in North Carolina who has an unnatural fascination with the color orange. Just because I'm a Tennessee alum and die-hard Volunteer fan doesn't mean that I can't poke a little fun at the Big Orange and anybody else for that matter. Feel free to complain all you want. >> Read more from this author

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One Response to “The Great Punkin Returneth…”

  • hooperNo Gravatar says:

    I think we’re on the same page.

    I’ve yet to run across anybody who really sees this as some sort of controversy, to be honest. It seems more like a media creation because of the obvious storyline (though it might be that I hang around with engineers all day long). Cheering for Fulmer on Saturday has absolutely nothing to do with supporting Kiffin. After all, Lane Kiffin had nothing to do with Fulmer’s dismissal and neither did Fulmer have anything to do with Kiffin’s hiring. (By that, I mean that there was no connection between Fulmer being the previous coach and Kiffin’s hire; a vacancy was open and Lane filled it.)

    Sure, it might be a little awkward – especially for the players – to have Fulmer there so soon after things went south, but it’s not like he’s going to be on the sidelines throughout the game.

    As to the KQC: I don’t think this is intended to be some sort of political statement, but if it is, then some boosters seriously need to grow up. True, the program can’t survive without booster money and support, but it also can’t survive without the general fanbase. Scenes like last year’s Florida game where Neyland Stadium was practically deserted were embarrasing at a national level. Had they continued, the program would have been sunk no matter who was running it. Fair or not, Hamilton needed to make sure that people kept attending and spending money.

    The boosters should seriously consider that the whole purpose of being a booster is a “you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours” affair. When the team does well, the economy in Knoxville improves and the boosters’ business interests make more money. It’s reciprocal, and they would have been losing a lot of money if the apathy hadn’t been diverted. And whether UT wins or loses next year, the apathy is certainly gone today.

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