Posts Tagged ‘Knoxville News Sentinel’

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

21 Things … That Make it Great to be a Tennessee Volunteer

That Make it Great to be a Tennessee Volunteer

Now that I am finally done with my trial, I can begin to get back to things that really matter, namely spending endless hours blogging…

Needless to say, this has been a football season which could drive a Tennessee fan to drink, sniff glue, use leeches, beat up little old ladies on the side of the road, or some similar vice.  Between mounting losses, SEC and BCS irrelevance, the controversy over the legacy of the Great Punkin, and bickering among the fans, the battle for the soul of Big Orange fans has never been more feverishly pitched.

That said, I am still convicted—perhaps even more so—that there is no other team I’d ever follow and that it is truly great to be one of the many Tennessee Volunteers.  Thus, I thought I’d offer up a little list—just to remind the doom and gloom crowd that life really isn’t all that bad (and for reasons which should be fairly obvious, “21” is the top of the list).

Thus, here are 21 Things that make it great to be a Tennessee Volunteer:

>> (Lawvol’s first attempt at) Flash (which he couldn’t get to resize properly) Version <<

Full Version after the Jump…

** Many images, may load slowly on dial-up connections

Read the rest of this entry

Headlines, Links & Lies: Post-Georgia Rundown

Headlines, Links & Lies | Gate 21

Since my life is currently dominated by my “real-life” job at the present, and find myself completely swamped as I get ready for trial—leaving my spare time ground into dust and flung into the wind—I have limited time to post my thoughts on the Tennessee Volunteers’ loss to the Georgia Bulldogs this past weekend.  Thus, I’ll sum it up as succinctly as I can:

Better but worse.  Some nice new things along with depressingly more of the same.  It’s turning out to be a very long season…

Since I have almost nothing substantive to offer at the moment, here’s what everyone elase is saying about the Vols’ Loss to the Georgia Bulldogs this past weekend in Athens.

Final Statistics:  Tennessee 14 • Georgia 26

Post-Game QuotesNotes PDF Document

Even Smokey is Getting Taunted

From the Good Guys (Vol Bloggers):

Along these same lines, here’s the Blazer Chronicles with VolzRChamps’ take on the Georgia Game:

The Blazer Chronicles: Episode 8 — Tennessee v. Georgia Postgame

From the Meanies (Georgia Bloggers):

From the Mercenaries (Mainstream Media):

Given the fact that I will be in trial for multiple weeks starting tomorrow, I will not be around much and will be posting even less until I get done.  Bearing that in mind, be sure to check out HSH’s posts in my absence.

SEC Power Poll Ballot to come later in the day, and then I’m into figuring out exactly what I’m going to ask on cross-examination …

– Go Figure …Email lawvol Sam & Andy's Forever

Lead Image Courtesy of: Go Vols Xtra / Amy Smotherman-BurgessAudio Courtesy of: Paul Finebaum Show

Wait! It’s Still Football Season!

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Oh Yeah, Basketball

With lawvol swamped, I have been given the steering wheel here at Gate 21. How do I respond?? With a basketball-related post – in the second week of October. That’s what 2-3 and little hope does, but I’ll have more on that plus the newly-revived Big Orange Roundtable AND the usual “On Remote” college football preview.

The joys of Fall Break and some extra time…

Anyways, the inspiration for this post, you ask? On my way back to my apartment just now, I of course see freshman Renaldo Woolridge walking down by Pratt/TBA. Not thirty seconds later, who do I see? Emmanuel Negedu. My first Negedu sighting.

Now Woolridge just had a story about his rap talent in this morning’s Knoxville News-Sentinel, where I currently work. I got a chance to listen to it for a moment this morning and I gotta say if his basketball skills are near his rap skills, Tennessee got a great player – I think they already did anyways…

YouTube Preview Image

Now compare this to this summer’s hit, Bobby “Big-Money” Maze’s “I Put on for Tennessee,” which was on YouTube…

YouTube Preview Image

These of course have little to do with Tennessee basketball, other than the incredible rise in the program’s street cred. Honestly, you could assume and guess that stuff like this helps recruiting, especially if Bruce Pearl has nothing to really say about it (I’m not sure I’ve seen his comments on any of it either…). It certainly can’t hurt, right?

I guess I just had basketball on my mind (and not Georgia…get it?!) this afternoon. Weird and all since it’s Georgia week, but you’ll get my thoughts and understand why a little later this week…

Reason #15,653 to love Bruce Pearl: the Vols now have two rappers...

Flashback: The Great Games — The All-Time Top 10

Flashback | Gate 21

Well, as Joel pointed out, the News Sentinel’s Dave Hooker recently came out with his Top 10 games in Tennessee football history. It is an interesting list, but (like Joel) I’m not so certain I agree with all of the games on Hooker’s list.

Given the fact that I am still making my way through my “Great Games” series, it seems appropriate for me to chime in with my thoughts on this. At the risk of rendering some of my future posts in this series futile (not that they aren’t already), here is my top 10 games in Tennessee football history (with comparison to Dave Hooker’s ranking):

The Great Games |

Gate 21’s Top 10 All-Time


Tennessee Football Games

No. 10: 1989 – Tennessee vs. UCLA

The Rose Bowl | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

I know that some will question this one, but this game still stands out to me as one of the best. I toyed with ranking the 1985 Auburn win at No. 10, but I have to go with the Vols 1989 trip to Pasadena to take on the Bruins. This game was early in the season, and at that point UCLA was highly touted. Tennessee had been beaten in both their prior trips to the Rose Bowl to play the Bruins (1975 and 1967), and many thought they would repeat that trend as the Vols came off of their worst season in recent memory, and a close call in their season-opener versus Colorado State. The Vols, however, stepped-up to the challenge and proved that their 5 and 6 record for 1988 was only a bump in the road as they came out gunning for the No. 6-ranked Bruins. The Vols completely shutdown the UCLA offense with their own brand of SEC defense, en route to a 24 – 6 victory. That game set the stage for the rest of the season — one which included 10 more wins and only a single loss. The Vols would go on to win an SEC Championship, beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl that year, and end with a No 5 ranking.

Still, by my mind, it all started in California…

No. 9: 1999 Fiesta Bowl – Florida State vs. Tennessee

Sun Devil Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 1

Dave Hooker had this game as No. 1, but I cannot in good conscience give it that distinction. While the 1999 Fiesta Bowl did give Tennessee its first Consensus National Championship since 1951, the game itself was not nearly as spectacular as others that season.

First of all, both Tennessee and Florida State played very sloppily throughout the game as a result of the more than 4-week layoff leading up to the contest. Second — in fairness to Florida State — they were playing with a back-up quarterback, Marcus Outzen, who (to my knowledge) never started another game after the championship, due to the injury to Chris Weinke.

Finally, the game was exciting, but probably only if you were a Tennessee or Florida State fan. The reason for this is that the two teams were extremely closely matched at most positions. All of that said, I have such amazing memories of this game and of finally seeing another championship for the Big Orange, that I have to include it in the Top 10, regardless of its flaws.

After all, a championship is a very special thing…

Read the rest of this entry

Flashback: The Great Games — Alabama 1995


The Great Games |

The Third Saturday in October, 1995

(14 October 1995)

Tennessee Football vs. Alabama Football

Tennessee 41 Alabama 14

Legion Field

There are a fair number of people in Orange Nation who — ignoring the whole “national championship thing” in 1998 — are of the opinion that the 1995 Tennessee Volunteers may have been the best football team fielded by the Big Orange in the modern era. Regardless of whether they were better than any other team — the 1995 Vols were pretty darn good, and were a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Thus, a few of the games from that season make my all-time list.

It’s probably not all that hard to figure out the first one (No, I’m not referring to the stinkin’ East Carolina Game)

I don’t know that I necessarily agree or disagree with the folks who think the 1995 team is better than the 1998 team. I think there are strong points that can be made for both squads, but hardly settle the issue. After all, who is “best” is really a matter of opinion. This is the sort of debate which leads Basilio to offer his catch phrase of deepest profundity:

Hmmm …. Interesting.

Translation: “I really don’t feel like arguing with you about this because I can’t prove you’re wrong, and you can’t prove you’re right.Of course, some folks love trying to prove their opinions are fact or — at a minimum — are superior to your opinions (“Oh, but I can prove it! Really, I can — with a crayon, a note from my Mother, and this bit of string…” ). The type of people who seem to gravitate toward that sort of behavior are usually a little short on knowledge and a little long on ego which, while annoying at times, is forgivable. The rest are just egomaniacal degenerates, politicians, and lawyers (ugh)…

… but I digress (sigh).

By the time 1995 rolled around Tennessee had managed to keep from beating the Alabama Crimson Tide for nine (that’s right, I said “NINE”) utterly abominable years. To that point, Tennessee had only beaten Alabama four times in my entire lifetime, which — from my perspective — sucked. The Vols came within a hair of beating Alabama in 1993, only to tie (that game was later forfeited to Tennessee due to Bama having offered big piles of cash to their players from 1958 until … well … minutes before the sanctions were imposed. Still, a forfeit on paper is hardly a win.). In 1994, my freshman year on the Hill, another freshman — some Manning kid — didn’t see an open passing lane to James “Little Man” Stewart who was standing in the endzone, all by himself, and practically sending smoke signals begging for the ball on the final play of the game. Victory to the Tide. Needless to say, I — along with every other Tennessee fan — was ready for that streak to end.

The game, like every other Tennessee-Alabama contest played in the state of Alabama from 1932-1999, was played at Legion Field in Birmingham.

If you’ve never been to Legion Field … skip it.

Read the rest of this entry

Now I Remember Why I Hate the Off-Season

Yeah, I admit it, I’m having a hard time getting inspired to write lately …

I have never looked forward to the off-season following the end of football and basketball season (especially when it’s “Spring” but still cold as whizz in the mornings) but now it has taken on a whole new dimension. This is my first off-season as a blogger, and it pretty much stinks. I have always tried to offer up posts with at least a little bit of substance, or — at a minimum — some poorly done graphics. Now, I find myself struggling to come up with articles worth writing. Part of this, I suppose stems from my general lack of interest in the fortunes of Major League Baseball. It’s not as if I dislike the sport — after all, I do coach Little League — it’s just not the sort of thing I have ever been very interested in writing about.

Furthermore, I can write all I want to about spring football practice, but considering I live over 6 1/2 hours from Knoxville, anything I could possibly say has already been said since my thoughts would be based upon what I read on other blogs.

I suppose I could write about politics, but that would require me to take a position on issues which are likely to alienate at least half of the 4 people who regularly read my blog — in short, I ain’t going there (at least not while my little creation is so very new…).

Thus, while I am working on a few new ideas, and creating graphics for a few other sites (my most recent being Uncoached), I am not doing a very good job of delivering much in the way of real content.

I was actually getting a bit discouraged until today when the Knoxville Snooze Slantinel made me feel a lot better by running a story on a lawsuit between the owners of a company trying to sell orange blazers like those worn by Bruce Pearl. The KNS felt this was important sports news.

You know that was awfully nice of John Adams — after all the ugly things I’ve said about him — to try and make me feel better about my ineptitude, by showing that the KNS is as clueless as I am.

Thus, I want to openly decry the ugliness of the off-season. It is a hideous thing which should be abolished.

Oh yeah, I also want to thank the Snooze Slantinel for making me feel better about my inability to say anything meaningful as of late.

So, I guess, now that I have complained about not having anything to complain about and I still can’t think of any “real” stories to write I’ll just have to return to fabricating stories out of the thinnest and most unreliable rumors (many of which are only rumors among the community of voices living in my head).

In the meantime, if you liked my article on the Voice of College Sports back in February (which is unlikely) then you are likely to enjoy Spencer Hall’s article on Larry Munson over at the Sporting News (HT to Joel at RTT for the find). Otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to wait for my 8-part investigative piece on how Tennessee is facing allegations of misconduct over the use of doughnuts as a human growth hormone.


– Go Figure …


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