Posts Tagged ‘Manifesto’

An Open Letter to the Vol Nation: A Manifesto on Past, Present, and Future

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21
[Note:  This post is exceptionally long—even for me—and I apologize for this.  I simply felt that a lot of these things needed saying, and I really haven't heard them elsewhere.  Thus, if you'll forgive my long-windedness,  I promise there is a point to this.  I just felt this that this isn't a simple issue, and thus I needed to explain.  -Lawvol]

Of all the posts I have ever written as a blogger, all the comments I have ever posted on message boards and other blogs, all the public professions I have ever made regarding the Tennessee Volunteers, this one is by far the most difficult one for me.  I’d really rather not be in the position of feeling it necessary to write this.  To fail to address the issue, however, would be to ignore the giant looming cloud over the heads of all of the Vol-faithful, regardless of their thoughts or position., I am talking about the “situation” with the Tennessee Football coaching staff.

For the record, I am a Phillip Fulmer fan.  I believe that he has done more for the Tennessee program than anyone else over the last fifteen years.  I credit him with taking Tennessee from the mish-mash of the middle tier of college football and propelling the Vols to the very pinnacle of success.  I credit him with bringing the program into the modern era.  I credit him with making many of the things to which we as Tennessee fans have become accustomed possible.  I like Coach Fulmer, or the “Great Punkin” as I routinely refer to him (with no slight or insult intended).

I guess that makes me a homer

To the best of my recollection, the only time I have ever openly criticized the Tennessee coaching staff was during the past off-season when off-field incidents involving Vol footballers were escalating alarmingly, by my mind calling into question the integrity of the program and the University of Tennessee itself.  Aside from that, I have always refrained from going after the coaches like so many seem to want to do.  I wrote a little about this after the UCLA game, stating:

… I would say that I am more appropriately a Homer for all coaches across the landscape of college football who are constantly questioned, rebuked, and derided by tens of thousands of come-lately armchair geniuses.

It is a peculiar characteristic of so many fans that they believe that simply being a follower of a team for a given length of time makes them an expert on how things should be done.  Make no mistake, as a sports blogger, I am as guilty of this offense as anyone—at least to some extent.  There are things that anyone with a brain can assess and analyze based purely upon common sense, life experience, and the fluff that resides between our ears.

* * * * *

These sorts of basic truths are fairly and frankly within the grasp of us all, and thus the rightful ability to comment on such profundities resides with each and every person who follows college football.  In much the same vein, I think it is reasonable for many (note, I did not say “all”) long-term fans of the sport to comment on what a given team does, or in most cases, did.

Beyond that, however, it seems to me that trying to profess what the best way to coach a football team—a team to which most have no access except through their televisions—is an endeavor which necessarily makes the speaker feel smart and important, while simultaneously making them look foolish and arrogant.

I have absolutely no idea about what it takes to coach a major college football team.  I’m completely clueless.  Furthermore, I have no idea what it is like to play on such a team.  Again, clueless.  I am also willing to bet that most who are attacking Phil Fulmer and the Tennessee coaching staff at present share my level of experience and insight.  So, at a minimum, I guess I am among equally-ignorant equals when it comes to assessing the coaches.

Unlike many others, however, I am not going to attack the Great Punkin, Dave Clawson, John Chavis, or any of the other coaches.  I am simply going to speak about what I do know and speak from the heart:

Though I first watched Tennessee under Coach Majors, most of my life as a Tennessee fan, student, and alum has been during the tenure of Coach Fulmer.  I think he is a man of integrity, a man of honor, a skilled and adept football coach, and a great leader and teacher for the young men he coaches.  I have such deep respect for what he has done.  In his 17-year career as Tennessee’s head coach, Fulmer is 148-47-1 (.759), he has won 10 or more games in a season nine times, he has won or tied for the SEC East title seven times, he has won 2 SEC Championships, and the 1998 National Championship.  I remember all of these “good old days” like they were yesterday.

Coach Fulmer has done a lot, a whole lot…

By the same token, things simply have not been good for the Vols for some time now.  Here are a few statistics:

  • Last SEC Championship: 1998 (No Coach in UT history had a longer drought and retained their job)
  • Last BCS Game Appearance: 1999
  • Only one Top-10 finish this decade (2001)
  • Last 50 Games 32-18 (.648) [Johnny Majors was 39-9-2 (.780 wins only / .820 wins & ties) over his final 50 games]
  • Failed to finish in the Top-25 twice this decade in any poll and finished 25th in the AP in 2000 (unranked in Coaches Poll)
  • Signed a recruiting class outside the Top-20 in two of the past three seasons
  • 5-12 versus Florida all-time
  • 14-13 in the last 27 SEC Games
  • 28-27 (.509) versus Current SEC Coaches
    • 0-4 versus Urban Meyer (Florida)
    • 1-2 versus Les Miles (LSU)
    • 3-4 versus Mark Richt (Georgia)
    • 1-3 versus Nick Saban (LSU & Alabama)
    • 5-8 versus Steve Spurrier (Florida & South Carolina)
    • 3-3 versus Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss & Auburn)
  • Coach Fulmer has a winning record of 15-3 against Rich Brooks (Kentucky), Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State), Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt), and Houston Nutt (Arkansas only)

Over the last decade (since 1998) the Tennessee Volunteers under Fulmer are:

  • 1-8 (.111) at home versus Top-10 Teams
  • 17-23 (.425) versus ranked teams
  • 13-21 (.382) versus Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, and Alabama
Statistical Analysis Courtesy of: Tony

These numbers speak volumes…

Of course, I am enough of a realist to understand that no team—whether Tennessee, Southern Cal, or the Green Bay Packers—can have a championship year every year.  Every great team has bad years.  It just seems that it has been a long time since Tennessee has had a truly good year.  I freely acknowledge that in 2007 Tennessee had what, on paper, looks like a good year.  In 2007, the Vols went 10-4 and won the SEC East.  That said, even the most stalwart Vol fan would have to admit that Tennessee won the SEC East in a highly unorthodox manner.  Tennessee was beaten in the 2007 season opener versus California 45-31.  Two weeks later the Vols were annihilated by the Florida Gators 59-20 and were subsequently thumped by the Alabama Crimson Tide 41-17.  The only reason that the Vols made the trip to the  SEC Championship Game was that—under league rules—the tie went to Tennessee since the Vols defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in head-to-head competition.  In other words, the Orange and White backed into the Eastern Division title.

Prior to that, really since the 2001 season, the Vols have underperformed versus SEC and national rivals, and have—at best—been a mediocre team from a statistical perspective.  During that time, I cannot recount the number of times that the Vols have barely beaten teams that were wholly inferior in terms of talent.  What’s more, the Volunteers have regularly failed to meet the expectations of fans and analysts when considered against teams with similar recruiting classes and resources.  Then of course there was the 2005 season, or—as Joel at RTT describes it—“The Season of Which We do not Speak in which Tennessee recorded a 5-6 record.

It seems that Tennessee has struggled at every turn since winning the 1998 Championship…

Jump forward to this year and the UCLA game, in which Tennessee loses to a UCLA team which the Vols were projected to beat handily.  As I and others have said, there is absolutely no reason that the Vols should have lost that game.  To make bad matters worse, since defeating the Vols, the Bruins have gone on to lose two more games in which they failed to score a single touchdown for the first time in 44 years. (HT Get the Picture)  Tennessee then managed a lackluster win over a clearly out-matched UAB team before playing the Florida Gators.  As I said in my “Marching Orders” piece earlier this week, that game was one of the poorest displays I’ve ever seen from a Vols squad.

Although I cannot really recall when it all started, the Tennessee fanbase began growing restless as early as 2002.  Even then, there was a small but vocal minority of fans that felt it was time for Fulmer to go.  Those voices of criticism were largely ignored by the masses until now.  After the Florida defeat, those voices have swelled to the point that they can no longer be ignored.  Just looking at the Vol-blogosphere, there are fewer and fewer that support Fulmer and even more voices criticizing than ever before—including 3SIB’s Ghost of Neyland, SouthEastern Sports Blog, YMSWWC, Curveballs for Jesus, BasilioMoonDog, the absurd Coacho Ocho, and Gate 21’s own HSH.

So here I am…

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