With its tumultuous search for a head football coach ongoing, Tennessee parted ways with athletic director John Currie on Friday. Currie, who was hired April 1, unsuccessfully courted several coaches in the wake of Butch Jones’ dismissal, including Greg Schiano, Mike Gundy, David Cutcliffe, Dave Doeren and Jeff Brohm. The Vols are preparing for their fifth head coach in 11 years.
What is going on in Knoxville?
“I don’t really know how to get my arms around what’s gone on at Tennessee,” college football analyst Roddy Jones said on The DA Show. “This is probably historically the second-most successful program in the SEC, and not only have they been turned down my numerous coaches now, if you believe the reports, (but) most recently they go after Dave Doeren at NC State – and he turns the job down. Let’s just consider the fact that they’re going after Dave Doeren at NC State. Dave Doeren has done a decent job at NC State, but he had arguably the second-best team in the ACC the year and managed to lose four games. So he didn’t exactly set the world on fire.”
Phillip Fulmer led Tennessee to eight double-digit-win seasons from 1995 to 2007, including a national championship in 1998, when the Vols went 13-0.
The program, however, has finished with a losing record in six of the last 10 seasons.
“If I’m a coach, I don’t know if I take that job because I don’t know what I’m walking into – and I don’t think the people at Tennessee can feel confident enough in telling me what I’m going to walk into to convince me to get there,” Jones said. “It’s always going to have that allure because of the fact that they’re close to so many fertile recruiting areas, because of the history, but that job may be a coaching cycle away from being a really attractive one – because it is an absolute dumpster fire right now.”
There are reports that Fulmer, 67, may have undermined Currie throughout Tennessee’s coaching search in hopes of ousting him and ultimately replacing him. If true, is this sort of backstabbing and politicking common in collegiate athletic departments?
“I would say that the backstabbing part of it, that’s more rare, but the politicking, that’s throughout,” Jones said. “Everyone’s kind of jockeying for that position, and he has meant so much to that school that he probably feels like he deserves a shot to run it. The last time Tennessee was relevant on a national stage, Phillip Fulmer was in charge of the football program. So in his mind, he may feel like, ‘Hey, I’m the only guy that can turn this thing around.’ Now I don’t think Phillip Fulmer necessarily has to go to those lengths to get that look. He’s got enough respect and he’s involved with the program (enough) that I think he’s got enough connections to where he doesn’t have to sabotage the current guy to do it. But if you’re looking for an opportunity to get in, it’s a pretty good one when the coaching hires start to go bad and the school starts to look like an embarrassment. They’re going for a white knight, and Phillip Fulmer may ride in and save the day. So I would say the backstabbing is probably rare, but the politicking? That’s everywhere.”