Archive for the ‘No Pass Out Checks’ Category

Tell Mike Griffith that I take it all back…

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

Earlier this year, I was somewhat miffed at the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Mike Griffith over his early-season criticisms of the BasketVols.  I felt that those criticisms—which were as candid as they were brutal—were misplaced.  At the time I felt that Griffith was premature in his biting critique of the Vols’ play.  I felt that the, then, 6-1 and No 10 ranked BasketVols were still just beginning to warm up.  I felt that he was putting the cart before the horse.

I take that back…

As was seen in the Vols’ utterly disappointing 81-65 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels, if anything, Griffith might have actually been a little too kind to the Vols when he assessed their performance back in December.  Lately, it has seemed that the Vols have been sliding further and further as the season progresses, raising concerns about where (or whether) this team will land in the NCAA Tournament.

After all, with their game against the Rebels presenting a chance to take control of the SEC East, there was plenty to play for…

Either way, the Tennessee Volunteers now find themselves sitting at 16-9 / 7-4 with games at Kentucky, at Florida, and at South Carolina in the next two weeks.  This after losing two of their last four games (Auburn being the other recent loss).  In terms of the Vols hopes of winning the SEC East, those are not exactly great odds.

What’s more, Mississippi didn’t just get lucky down the stretch, they beat the Vols in all of the four key areas of the game:

But enough of the doom and gloom.  The good news is that, miraculously, Tennessee is still tied for first place in the SEC East—again with Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina.  Thus, the importance of each win in the last five games of the season is amplified.  So there is a real chance for Tennessee to stretch its legs quickly and pull away from the pack.  Of course, each loss is equally as devastating in terms of conference standing. The peculiar thing is that, despite Tennessee having been mightily swatted by Kentucky—and in particular Jodie Meeks—in January, the Vols and the Wildcats actually matchup fairly evenly from a statistical perspective. As the chart below shows, Tennessee has been on a slight decline in the four key factors, but have—all things considered—held reasonably steady throughout conference play.

Of course, given the Vols’ inconsistencies over the last month, it remains to be seen whether they can manage to hold the line and man-up against Kentucky this Saturday.

I am sure Mike Griffith will be watching…

– So it goes…About Lawvol

Charts / Stats Courtesy of:

The Cost of Sports — Part 2: Jerry Maguire and Professional Sports

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

As I discussed in Part 1 of this series on the cost of sports, at Tennessee, the price can be high when it comes to paying your way into Neyland Stadium — a truth of which Nashville’s Thomas Luck is all too aware.  I discussed the issue purely in terms of the experience at Tennessee mainly because it is what I am familiar with.  Tennessee was but a lens — the reality is largely the same at all schools with a major athletics presence.

The world of professional sports, however, makes the college ranks look like small potatoes in the way it is wed to the almighty dollar.  Given the current uncertain economic times, however, I question whether professional sports in particular can continue in the way it has for so long.

I suppose that sports fans should not be surprised at the notion that professional teams would necessarily focus on money, after all that is what professional athletics are all about: getting paid to play.  I suppose Rod Tidwell (from the movie “Jerry Maguire) summed it up best with the oft quoted line “Show me the money!“  What I think is a bit surprising is how willingly and uncomplainingly professional sports fans have accepted the “money first” approach of all the teams in all the major leagues.  The increases in costs passed along to professional sports fans over the last generation is really quite staggering.

Video: Show me the Money!!

But don’t take my word for it…

Read the rest of this entry

The Cost of Sports — Part 1: Big Orange, Big Costs, Big Recession

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

So how much is winning worth to you?

This is a question that many have asked and answered over the years.  The reality is that there is no right or wrong answer to this question—it is a personal matter, which really lives outside the confines of “categorical absolutes” and everyday reality.  We all have our limits.  Some are willing to go farther than others.  In the end, though, it is a question of conscience (or of getting caught).

That question is now being supplanted by a new consideration, one which is far more basic and fundamental, and which is bound by the world of reality.

How much are sports worth to you?

I say that this is now bound by reality due to headlines that have become all too common across the country over the last 12 months such as the one in my hometown paper earlier this week.


That's what you like to see first thing in the morning...

You hardly have to be a news wonk to realize that the economy is seriously in the crapper.  People from all walks of life are being forced to make changes in the way they spend their money and how they live their lives.  With all of the bad news about jobs being cut, investments tanking, and businesses going under many are being forced to cut back not out of thrift but necessity.

Most rational individuals faced with the predicament of making a mortgage payment with dwindling funds or even putting food on the table will usually start by cutting out the things they can live without, namely entertainment and recreation.

Over the past generation, the cost of attending or participating in sports as a fan has increased dramatically.  For example in 1995, the average cost for a ticket to a Carolina Panthers football game was $37.92, in 2008 that average had risen to $63.32, and the Panthers had the fourth lowest ticket prices in the league.  Of course those increases have not been confined to professional sports (which I will address in part 2 of this series).

While food and shelter are obviously not things that a body can go without, tickets to watch your favorite team play are.  That begs the question, is the horizon looking bleak for the financial feasibility and solvency of major sports as we have known them?

Read the rest of this entry

The uglier side of the coaching carousel…

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Well, in case you were so overcome with joy at the news that “Kiffin the Elder” (a/k/a “The Full Monte) would be joining Coach Kiffin next Fall in Knoxville—and I can completely understand why you might be—the news out of Auburn is much less pleasant.

Apparently, “War Eagles” are cannibals because at present, the Auburn Tigers are voraciously eating their own…

First of all, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not purporting to offer any thoughts on whether Gene Chizik was a good hire from a “football” perspective.  First, aside from my remembering that Chizik was on the Auburn staff as a defensive coordinator in the 2004-ish era, I really don’t know enough about the man’s essentials to assess him one way of the other.  I have never been (nor do I plan to become) a devoted follower of the Iowa State Cyclones either, thus I also lack the knowledge to weigh whether Chizik’s 5-19 record as the head coach in Ames really means that much or not.

Second, as a Tennessee fan, I have little room and even less desire to point out the shortcomings of other programs at this particular point in time (“ahem… pot, meet kettle”)…

Third, I don’t have to really even get into the substance of Chizik’s qualifications to realize that all hell has broken loose on the Plains.

There are some very restless natives in Auburn.

Since Gene Chizik’s announcement as the new head coach, the Tiger faithful have literally declared a civil war on a scale which boggles the mind and confounds reason.  The only reaction I have been able to draw thus far is that, based purely upon the reaction of the fans, alumni, and talking heads—completely irrespective of his abilities—Gene Chizik is going to have a very tough time winning at Auburn.

The reason for this is that, with the exception of Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, and perhaps Kirk Herbstreit, there appears to be no one among the Tiger faithful who is, was, or believes that they will ever be happy with this hire.  Of course, this is an understatement of prodigious proportions—somewhat akin to saying that GM is undergoing a “minor financial adjustment” or that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has made some “unpopular decisions.”  Only two words accurately describe the situation among the Aubies:

Cataclysmic Meltdown.

For example, listen to the guy ranting and raving in the background as Jay Jacobs returns to Auburn after sealing the deal with Chizik over the weekend.

Jay Jacobs Gets a Welcome Back to Auburn

Wow, now that is some serious fan support!

Now, mind you this is occurring before the official announcement has even been made.  This was not, however an isolated incident.

This pretty much sums up the thoughts in Auburn

This pretty much sums up the thoughts in Auburn

Over at Track ‘em Tigers, the reaction was enough to induce vomiting (you simply have to read through some of the comments), and I am pretty certain that a few of the commenters have since committed suicide.  In particular, the guy who wrote this letter:

Mr. Jacobs

I have no words to express how I feel about the hiring of Chizik as the head football coach at Auburn University. How can anyone be this devoid of wisdom. I have been an Auburn fan for 40 years. I went to school during the Barfield years for goodness sake. During this entire period I have never once even considered wavering in my allegiance to Auburn.

As of now I will turn in my tickets. (scholarship) I will not send another dime of support to the University, and I will join all efforts towards the removal of you and everyone else involved in this ridiculous hire.

You and Dr. Gogue may think you can sit in your ivory towers protected by the powers that be, (and you know to whom I am referring) but you forget Auburn is a grassroots university. Hard working men and women made Auburn the great university it is today. I hold fast to the belief that it is the spirit that lives in these same men and women which will cause us to band together and throw you and the rest of your crowd out on your ears.

It cannot happen soon enough!!!!

• via: Track ‘em Tigers — WarEagle99

The comments over at’s Gold Mine Blog were fairly similar in their lack of … excitement.  My personal favorite was:

Excuse me while I go take down generations of Auburn memorabilia and burn my diploma.

• via: — BigBlueHey

Of course, we all know that comments are often submitted in the heat of the moment, and are less than well thought out—I’m as guilty of that as anyone.  The bad news is that, by and large, even the cooler heads have shown strong misgivings at the hiring of Chizik.  One such “cooler head” is that of Will Collier at From the Bleachers who writes:

All that stuff about “don’t panic” and “they sky is not falling” and “Auburn will hire a good coach?” Never mind all that. Dogs and cats are, in fact, living together in the luxury suites of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

* * * * *

Gene Chizik is almost certainly the worst candidate interviewed during this utter farce of a coaching search. He is a poor recruiter who has completely failed to date as a head coach. Chizik’s own friends in the coaching community openly scoff at the idea of him being a head coach for a major program.

For Auburn’s program, he will be the equivalent of Mike DuBose, although hopefully without the cheating.

* * * * *

I don’t say this lightly, but, Fire Jay Jacobs. And while you’re at it, fire his buddy Tim Jackson, who inexplicably was invited along for the interviews, despite the fact that Jackson is Auburn’s… ticket manager. That makes as much sense as asking a halfwit greenskeeper to sit in on interviews for a corporate CEO.

• via: From the Bleachers

Two more particularly well done pieces can be found at The War Eagle Reader and The Pigskin Pathos as well as some ranting and raving from A Lifetime of Defeats.

All of this begs the question, when does exercising your constitutionally (and in my opinion morally) protected “bitching license” leave you in the proverbial Catch-22?  It seems to me that even if Gene Chizik were the second coming of Vince Lombardi or (to put it more into context) Shug Jordan, that he is now doomed to fail.  In other words, no matter how good he is as a coach, he is already disliked by the fanbase before a single down of football has been played.  I understand that the Auburn faithful are not happy with the hire, and that many feel Tommy Tuberville was essentially fired for no good reason, but at the end of the day if you are an Auburn fan, if you don’t rally around your new coach, it is all but assured that the program will implode for at least 2-5 years, if not more.

Fortunately for Auburn, some of those in the blogosphere have recognized this, including Joe Cribbs Car Wash and Fields of Donahue who writes:

Alright, our new head coach is Gene Chizik.

We’re not happy.

It sucks.

The only thing to do now is support him. I don’t care if he was miserably bad at Iowa State. He is our coach now, and we need to get behind him…

• via: Fields of Donahue

I feel for the Auburn folks.  The Tennessee Volunteers are just coming out of the gloom of what is, without question, the single most difficult football season I’ve ever lived through.  All season long Orange Nation spent a great deal of time ripping one another to shreds before Smiling Mike Hamilton and the Great Punkin finally quieted things.  Like it or not, at least Smiling Mike had the decency and good sense to address the issue with Fulmer in as transparent and public a manner as was probably possible.  That helped start the healing process, and probably accounts for the general sense of excitement surrounding the ascendancy of the Blackjack General as Tennessee’s new football coach, despite the fact that many still have questions about his experience.  That is also precisely why Auburn AD Jay Jacobs is currently public enemy number one down on the Plains.  Still the situations are really not all that dissimilar.

That’s the odd thing.  From where I am sitting—from a purely “factual” perspective—both Tennessee and Auburn are looking at largely untested and unknown head coaches putting on their headsets next fall.  The only difference is that Tennessee is doing everything it possibly can to help boost their new skipper to success, while it seems that Auburn is obliterating every possible chance for their new hire to enjoy the same.  Both men have a tough road and a lot of work ahead of them, but—as things currently stand—it would appear that Kiffin has a much better chance of success simply because the fanbase is uniting behind him.

Right now, I am really appreciating Smiling Mike…

Hopefully, the Tennessee fans out there who are quick to attack will pay attention to this debacle at Auburn and learn.  Sometimes you have to come together, sometimes you have to put differences aside, sometimes you have to bite your tongue.  That is what it means to be part of a team or, as I have described it, a family.  Establishing a tradition always requires unity and sacrifice.

Learn from this, Orange Nation, lest you follow the Tigers down that bitter primrose path…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Image Courtesy ofJoe Cribbs Car Wash

Who is Smarter, Smiling Mike or Bea Arthur? (or A Few Belated Comments on the Hiring of Coach Kiffin)

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Alright, I admit I have been a little absent and not just a little bent out of shape over the fact that I have been completely unable to post anything of substance lately due to my “real” job as an evidence manipulation specialist (lawyer).  Hence my last post.  What’s more, this has been a very exciting week for fans of the Big Orange, as Tennessee named Lane Kiffin its new head football coach.  Despite all of the fanfare, I spent my week in a courtroom, and failed to get a single decent comment out in a timely fashion.

Again, hence my last post…

That said, after watching a few video clips, most notably the one below, I am feeling much more relaxed and much happier.  Why?  Because, I am beginning to think that maybe Smiling Mike has done it again.

Lane Kiffin’s First Press Conference as Tennessee Head Football Coach

I’ll be the first to admit, Lane Kiffin wasn’t the number one name on my list—but make no mistake he was on it.  Still, in the back of my mind I wondered “is Mike Hamilton rushing into things?  I just don’t know if I would have been in such a rush.”

Then I remembered two key things:

  1. I picked the Auburn Tigers to win the SEC West and the Tennessee Volunteers to finish second in the SEC East this year; and
  2. Bruce Pearl.

Those two realizations gave me a moment of pause and suddenly gave me real confidence in the decision to hire Lane Kiffin as the head football coach at Tennessee.

The first point reminded me that I am a moron and that my skills as a prognosticator and student of college football are about as reliable as Eric Locke was as a receiver (or kick returner, or cheerleader, or ditch digger, or…).  Furthermore, it reminded me that there is an awful lot of guesswork in the business or picking coaches.  Which led me to point number two.

Smiling Mike dares you to make fun of his shirt

As I wrote some time ago while serving as a stand-in guest writer over at Joel’s venerable pillar of the Fifth Estate, on the day Bruce Pearl was introduced as Men’s Basketball coach the first thing I asked myself was “who the hell is Bruce Pearl?”  Well, suffice it to say that I now know who Bruce Pearl is, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the basketball loving inhabitants of the country do now as well.  The point is this: love him or hate him, over the last few years Mike Hamilton has shown an uncanny ability to find coaches about as well as anyone in the world of college sports, and as a result, I’m willing to trust his decision.

I think Hamilton has earned that.

Furthermore, what I have seen so far from Coach Kiffin (does kind of have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) has thoroughly impressed me.  The video above was especially telling for me.  Why?  Because Kiffin does not talk about “the passion of Tennessee’s fans” or “the tradition they have here.”   No, instead—about ten minutes after he was named head coach—he comments on “the passion of our fans” and “the tradition we have here.

I know, I know, I’m sure the folks in the Sports Information office reminded him to project that message, but you know what, it seemed pretty sincere to me…

I realize taking “ownership” verbally is a small detail—one which can be overstated—but it impressed me.  I honestly expected the typical “NFL-style” quasi-corporate speech about future, direction, and leadership.  I expected his opening foray with the press to be far less personal than it was.  Given my concerns that the “family” aspect of Tennessee football might fade away with the departure of the Great Punkin, this really did my heart good.  It also made it clear that Coach Kiffin understands that we happy few, we band of brothers, who wear the Orange are sort of “into” that whole “Tradition” thing.

All I can say is that I first looked at the hiring of Coach Kiffin with a lot of hope and expectation, and a near equal amount of concern and reticence.  After seeing how he has handled himself so far, it’s fair to say that I have been impressed.

Yeah, I’ve got me a great big pitcher of the proverbial Kool-Aid, and I’m chugging it down through a garden hose…

I guess that is why I felt led to say hello to Coach Kiffin visually—in the header here at the Gate—rather than simply saying “Oh, um, yeah we got us a coach.”

No matter what I may have thought about the past, I am pretty convinced that Coach Kiffin is the the right man to guide Tennessee into the future.

Which leads me to the seemingly inane title of this post.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge fan of professional sports and while I typically follow the NFL playoffs in a limited sense, I can hardly be said to keep up with the league.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but the end result is that I am often less than informed when it comes to the guys that play on Sunday.  Thus, the only real understanding I had when it came to Coach Kiffin was that he had been fired as head coach of the Los Angeles … err … OaklandLos Ang … Los Oaklesland Raiders mid-season.  I didn’t really hold this against him, because I realize how fickle NFL owners can be.  Furthermore, I hardly felt like I had enough background knowledge to really even understand why he was fired (I had to check just to confirm whether the Raiders were in Los Angeles or Oakland this year).

Still, I knew that something hadn’t worked out the way it had been planned…

Then, I stumbled upon this little jewel:

Al Davis on the Firing of Lane Kiffin

This video really confirmed a few things for me:

  • The Raiders will never win much of anything until that nut-job of an owner they have gives it up;
  • Anytime a coach is fired and respected journalists write things like this, it’s probably not the coach’s fault the team is sucking the tubes:

Al Davis’ once-proud franchise has won 19 games since appearing in the 2002 Super Bowl (or one more than the Patriots won in 2007) and better days seemed even more remote in January. That’s when the modest momentum built under new head coach Lane Kiffin in 2007 was flushed when it was learned Davis wanted Kiffin gone because Kiffin wanted to, ya know, coach the team…

Tom Curran | NBC Sports

  • Coach Kiffin’s record as an NFL head coach is of little concern to me considering the situation he inherited; and
  • Bea Arthur really should stop wearing those silly black leather jackets and sweatshirts when giving press conferences.

Al Davis?

Bea Arthur?

So, is Betty White currently the defensive coordinator for the Raiders, or is it one of the other Golden Girls?

Anyway, the point of this rambling post is simply to say, that I am thrilled to have Lane Kiffin on board as the newest member of the Tennessee family.  So far, I have been amazingly impressed with the way he has jumped in headfirst at Tennessee.  Most of all, however, I am happy with how he seems to really want be at Tennessee as opposed to simply biding his time.

Of course, I realize that he has not yet completed his first full week as head coach.  Still, all I can say is that—so far—it seems like Smiling Mike Hamilton may have gotten it right…again!

Either way, Coach Kiffin, I mean it sincerely when I say “Welcome to the Family!”

Oh yeah, and, Go Vols!

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Images Courtesy of: Knoxville News SentinelSA BlogsBroadwayWorld.comNBC Sports / Getty Images

Phillip Fulmer’s Final Tennessee Waltz

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

I remember the night of the Tennessee Waltz.  Now I know just how much I have lost…

Once again we find ourselves staring the end of football season in the face, but this one is different.

Today Tennessee says goodbye to Phillip Fulmer…

Phillip Fulmer has been the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers at all but one of the more than 100 games I have attended since my very first game in the early 1990s.  I have such conflicted feelings about today.  I essentially said my “goodbye” to Coach Fulmer a few weeks ago in my post “Goodbye, Charlie Brown…”.  In that post, I finally explained to the world why it is that I have always called him the Great Punkin—not as an insult, but as a matter of personal respect.  I pretty much summed up my feelings for Coach Fulmer as a man and as Head Coach.

Needless to say, I have immense respect for Fulmer…

Today is the final “Tennessee Waltz” for Coach Fulmer.  Though I think most will agree that the Volunteers’ performance on the field could have been far better this year, Fulmer’s departure marks a turning point in the history of Tennessee athletics.  This season has been terribly difficult for Tennessee fans—not so much as a result of the wins and losses, but because of the divisions between the fans over where it is the program should be headed.  I think Joel at RTT is right, this is the Season of Constant Sorrow.  There is no joy in seeing a man who has served the University of Tennessee so honorably and steadfastly for over 30 years be forced out.

For me, this is a sad day—I dread the thought of Coach Fulmer running through the T for the final time.  I hate the thought of those last seconds ticking off the clock.  It pains me to think that the next time we all meet again, there will be a different leader of the Big Orange Nation.  I also feel that when that gathering occurs, next Fall, something will be missing.  We will no longer be the family that we once were.

All of this is, of course, compounded by the fact that—for reasons which are beyond my control—I am unable to be in Knoxville today.  I will be relegated to watching the game on television and saying my goodbye from afar.

Like Will at SESB, I honestly do not know what to say—nothing is appropriate, or fitting.

All I can say to Coach Fulmer, is what I have already said:  Thank You, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Thank you for guiding the Vols to an SEC Championship, then another, then to a National Championship.  Thank you for always honoring the institution that you represent.  Thank you for being a wonderful representative for the alma mater that we both share.  Thank you for your integrity, your class, and your example.

Most of all, thank you for your humanity.  I have always been so proud to know that you were not just another football CEO.  I for one appreciate the fact that you have always let the world know that you are human and, yeah, every single loss hurts.

Thank you for always understanding that Tennessee football is not just about wins and losses, it is so much more than that.  It’s about sons and fathers, mothers and daughters.  It’s about big dreams and hopeful expectancy.  It’s about a connection between generations and a tie to a shared pastime.  It’s about devotion, loyalty, respect, family, and friends.  It’s about looking back on the days spent on the Hill.  It’s about a beautiful East Tennessee afternoon, the Smoky Mountains framing the sky with their majesty.  It’s about camaraderie, it’s about a shared experience.  It’s laughing, it’s crying, it’s living a memory, it’s hoping for the future, it’s about dreams, and it’s about spending a few minutes in this frenetic existence just savoring the colors and sounds of life.  It’s something that keeps all of us coming back for more and it’s something that simply defies description.

It’s not just a game, and it never will be.

It’s about life, it’s about love, and it’s about being part of something bigger than any one person could ever be alone.  It’s about history and things to come.

Thank you, Coach Fulmer for always honoring these truths and for making all of us proud.

I have such hope for the future, but for now, I am sad, as Coach Fulmer’s “Tennessee Waltz” comes to a close, and an era ends for the University of Tennessee.  Though Tennessee will undoubtedly win many more games in the future, the Tennessee family will never be quite the same as it has been.  It is exciting to think of what it will be like next year—what the future holds—but there will be time for that later.

Today is Coach Fulmer’s day.

I so wish I could have made it to Knoxville today for the game—to be part of the masses in giving Coach Fulmer his day.  That, unfortunately was simply was not meant to be, and thus I will have to thank him from afar.

Still, despite my distance, as the Phillip Fulmer era comes to a close, I encourage everyone who loves the Orange to take a moment of pause as you enter the stadium, as you take your seat, as you settle in to watch the game on television or listen on the radio—take just a moment and reflect.  Take just a moment and thank Coach Fulmer in your own way for always working so hard to make us proud to wear our orange.

Along with wanting to be in Knoxville today, I had also intended on putting together a tribute video for Coach Fulmer, but due to the fact that I have been forced into another trial starting on Monday, I was simply unable to get it put together in time.  For that, I am sorry.  Thus, all I can offer is this small token of my appreciation, which I was able to get together in the time I had.

Phillip Fulmer’s Final Tennessee Waltz | Gate 21

(Note: as of the time of this post, the video above was still being processed by YouTube.  It should automatically appear once that process is completed.)

I wish I had something more profound, more “weighty,” more poignant to say to express my thanks to Coach Fulmer, but words fail.

Thus, I’ll simply thank Coach Fulmer for giving so much to all of us, for working so hard to make the Vols shine, and for never wavering in his dedication to Tennessee.  I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Coach Fulmer, I—and so many others—will never forget your Tennessee Waltz…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Goodbye, Charlie Brown… (Lawvol’s Thoughts on Coach Fulmer’s Departure)

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

If you have read any of my posts over the last year, you will quickly learn that I have made it my habit to refer to Tennessee Volunteers’ head coach Phillip Fulmer as “the Great Punkin.”  To some, this may seem an insult—some thinly veiled comment on Coach Fulmer’s girth.  This simply is not the case.  Yes, the “Punkin” part does owe to the fact that Fulmer favors wearing Tennessee orange, beyond that, however, the name takes on a more personal (and probably less self-evident) character.  The “Great Punkin” nickname was always—and for me will always—be a term of endearment.

To me, Phillip Fulmer will always be like Charlie Brown…

Charlie Brown is the quintessential nice guy.  Everybody likes Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown likes everybody. He is the proverbial “fuddy-duddy” who has a bit of a pessimistic outlook on life, but at the end of the day believes in the hope of the future—he always keeps trying to kick that football, no matter how many times Lucy pulls it out from underneath him.  For the same reason, he is always a hard worker.  Charlie Brown is forever loyal to his friends (again, despite Lucy constantly pushing his buttons).  These are apt descriptors for Phillip Fulmer.

More importantly, Charlie Brown represents innocence and a healthy amount of naivetecharacteristics which have always been present in the world of Tennessee football, but which now are forever gone…

One of the things that first brought me into the fold as a fan of the Volunteers was the sense of community, the sense of family.  Tennessee football began, for me, as an experience of camaraderie, belonging, competition, and unified purpose.  What amazed me that first time I ever set foot inside Neyland Stadium in 1991, the first time I ever walked through the old Gate 21, was the fact that this massive throng of people—then 95,000 strong—could be so united behind a single purpose.  The fans I saw in the stadium that Fall day came from all walks of life, all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of situations—yet, they were united.  For those few hours, they were a great big (and loud) family.  I have personally gathered together with that family, and attended Tennessee games, 110 times since 1991.  Phillip Fulmer has been the head coach walking the sidelines for 109 of those games.

In my mind, since 1992, Phillip Fulmer was the head of that family…

I had the chance during the 2002 season to have season tickets which were directly behind the visitors’ bench on about the 10th row.  That year, I sat beside a gentleman who had been sitting in the same seats since the 1960s.  He told me that, prior to Tennessee moving the home bench to west sideline, it was not uncommon for the coaching staff to come over and chat with fans before, after, and even during games.  That is the sort of relationship-based existence that has been associated with Tennessee football throughout its history.  It has always been “ours”—something belonging to the family of Big Orange fans.  Thus, it was always fitting that “this thing of ours” should be led by one of our own—a lifelong member of the family who can be traced back to the first: General Neyland.

Phillip Fulmer has always been a member of that family…

Now make no mistake, this family can be difficult, unruly, and fickle.  This family can get into fights and can band together in factions.  Still, the leader of the family is responsible for gently chiding the wayward children, righting the ship, and keeping “our thing” going.  Once Johnny Majors left, that thing began to take on different look, as Tennessee began trying to be more “polished” for the national media.  The program became more “corporatized” and began to value money more than it had in the past.  Throughout the Fulmer years, money became a larger and larger part of the decision-making process, took over as the primary driving force, and grew into the engine that drove the program.  Still, no matter how much the financial side of the program grew in its importance, I always felt that Fulmer still managed to keep some semblance of the family feeling in the program.  He was always accessible, always fan focused, and never shirked a reasonable autograph or picture request.

In his own way, the Great Punkin was watching over us all…

Now, I am not naive enough to ignore the fact that Fulmer made millions of dollars as head coach, that the business of football was always king at Tennessee, and that—even if the fans hated it—a change which was going to increase earning for the program was a change that was going to happen.  I understand that it is a numbers game: numbers of fans, numbers of recruits, numbers of wins, numbers in the bank account.  I know all of this.  Still, despite this reality, I always felt that Fulmer was sincere in his service to the university, the fans, the alumni, and the State of Tennessee.  Sure, Phillip Fulmer wanted a multi-million dollar paycheck at the end of the year, but it always seemed to me that he would have still been the coach at Tennessee even if the pay was much less grand.

I remember the first time I met him.  Fulmer came by to give a “thank you” speech to the Pride of the Southland at 6:30 am prior to day three of our pre-season camp in August of 1994.  I was an in-coming freshman.  The only people on campus at that point were the football team and the marching band.  Now, I realize that he was probably—in some limited sense—obligated to show up and thank the band geeks for doing their thing in opening the “T” and playing Rocky Top ad nausem.  I say that because the day before the Big Dickey had come by to give his speech which was … well … less than inspiring (and, no, “Big Dickey” is not a term of endearment).  Fulmer’s speech, was far more sincere than I ever imagined it could be.  Fulmer told us how important the traditions of the Pride were to the team and to the University of Tennessee.  Whether he actually meant it or not, he made me believe that he felt our hard work was important to him.  I can honestly say that I was inspired.  After his speech, he hung around and chatted with members, signed some autographs, and then just hung-out at the side of the field for a while—leaning against the fence—watching us practice.  There were no cameras there.  There were no big-money donors to be seen.  There were no PR events on that early morning.  It was just a bunch of band kids, graduate assistants, directors, and the Great Punkin, checking in on how things were going.

Oh, and he followed that speech up with ongoing efforts to make sure the athletic bands had the financial resources to get us to away games comfortably, by urging the Big Dickey to fund the Pride of the Southland’s efforts (as a reference point, it cost nearly $300,000 to send the entire Pride of the Southland to the Georgia game in 1994).  Once, on one of the many occasions when Dickey didn’t particularly think the Band was worth the cost, Fulmer just told him “You need to give ‘em the money they need, because we need them…

Yeah, I am a fan of the big guy…

Now, however, the Great Punkin will be stepping aside at season’s end, and someone else will be taking over the leadership of the program.  When that happens, there will be no more Charlie Brown.  When that happens, it will be all business.

Make no mistake, I support Mike Hamilton, just like I support Phillip Fulmer.  I don’t particularly like Hamilton’s decision but I do agree with his decision.  Unfortunately, there are times when we all have to do things we don’t like.  As my manifesto from earlier in the season made clear, whether I liked it or not, I had concluded that it was time for Fulmer to step aside—not necessarily because I didn’t think he was capable of winning as a coach, but because the fanbase was simply too divided.

Irrespective of whether Fulmer should have been asked to resign, he has.  Thus, we look to the future.  I also agree with the general consensus that the next coach should come from outside the Tennessee bloodline.  Considering the fact that I have spent far too long discussing the merits of the family at Tennessee, this might seem odd.

One of the things that made life so difficult for Phillip Fulmer over the last six years, was the fact that he—as both a “business” coach and a “family” leader—often was forced to serve competing interests which pulled him in opposite directions.  That dilemma was ultimately part of his undoing.  Fulmer to the last day, has never attacked his own—yet he has been the brunt of a thousand assaults.  He embraced the media and the national audience in an effort to propel Tennessee to the forefront, yet he tried to balance that against the Charlie Brown loyalty he had for his program, his alma mater, his fellow alumni, and his state.  He wanted to win more than anything—and worked tirelessly to make that happen.  Yet, winning at all costs simply wasn’t an option—given the deep ties he had to the institution and its people.  In a sense, he was in the proverbial catch-22.

The next coach should not and cannot be asked to fill that role.  The next coach should and will be resolute in assuming the role as the dispassionate and detached CEO of the football fortunes at Tennessee…

That change will—in my estimation—lead to greater success for Tennessee.  By the same token, it will forever snuff out the last little light of that Great Punkin innocence that had managed to hang on within the program into the 21st Century.  The next leader will simply be “Coach”—nothing more, nothing less.  Oh, I am sure that I will give him a nickname—mainly because I give everyone a nickname—but it will be more sterile, more professional.

As for the Great Punkin, well, I hope he realizes how appreciative that I am for what he did for Tennessee throughout his career.  I hope he understands that though it is time for a change, it doesn’t mean he has been forsaken.  I hope he still thinks of Tennessee as “home” because—as former UT Chancellor and professor Jack Reese once told me “Home is the place where they have to take you in, even when they don’t want to.”  I hope Coach Fulmer realizes that he will always be a Tennessee legend.

Even more, I hope that the fans—the family—show him that they feel that way by sending him off with the fanfare, respect, and honor he has earned—that he deserves.

I realize that this has been a terribly sentimental, naive, emotional, and even childlike discussion of Coach Fulmer’s retirement.  At the end of the day, it is little more than a change in a single position at the University of Tennessee.  I realize this will probably leave me labeled forever as a homer.  There have been more than enough analytical glimpses at Fulmer’s resignation—I’d just be piling on.  Thus, I’m just sort of shooting from the hip here.  I realize it’s a bit sappy, but, it’s what I wanted to say.

I didn’t write this because Mike Hamilton wants everyone to honor Coach Fulmer and send him out in a manner befitting his service.  With all due respect to Mike Hamilton, I have donated enough money to the athletic department at Tennessee that I really could care less what he wants me to do.

I didn’t write this because I felt obligated, or because I felt I owed it to Tennessee or Coach Fulmer.

I wrote this because it is what I sincerely believe—what I feel.

This is a turning point for Tennessee.  I believe that it is one which will lead to great things—there is so much hope for the future.  I also have faith that Mike Hamilton will find the best coach for the job and that Tennessee will be back on top soon.  I have no fears about the future.

Still, I will miss the Great Punkin side of Tennessee football.  I will miss the last vestige of the old-school style of team pride, collective will, camaraderie, and devotion to alma mater.

I will miss Charlie Brown…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Images Courtesy of: Access North GeorgiaKnoxville News Sentinel / Amy Smotherman-BurgessSnoopy.comSmokey’s-Trail
Support Gate 21
Search the Gate
Categorically Speaking…
As if you cared…

Some of the Best!

Support Gate 21


Some of Lawvol's Favorite Links from across the web!

Tennessee FanDome

Tennessee Fandome:
Football | Basketball
Our Humble Gate…
Subscribe to
Subscribe to Gate 21

Enter your email address to receive Gate 21 via email:

We will NEVER use your email address for ANY purpose.
Powered by FeedBurner


Awards & Nominations

2007 CFBA Nominee: Best Looking Blog
2007 CFBA Nominee: Best New Blog

Support Gate 21
Best Football Sites
Powered by MyPagerank.Net

Gate 21 Graphics

Like Gate 21? Gate 21 is free to read, but costs a great deal to publish. Feel free to donate securely via PayPal:
Search the Gate
Older Ramblings

Tennessee Videos

Lawvol's Funnies

Support Gate 21


Yardbarker Network