Phil Fulmer is fighting an uphill battle that he will not win. The question now isn't whether or not he will be at Tennessee next year but what the terms of his exit will be. Tennessee fans are holding their breath hoping that he will go out graciously and negotiate rather than have to be fired.
So why is Fulmer in this situation? Well, for starters, he has started out 2-3 and those two wins were against urban (Alabama-Birmingham) and directional (Northern Illinois) schools. And neither were impressive.
The losses were against Florida (who Tennessee under Fulmer has mental demons when playing), Auburn (who now owns a four-game win streak over Tennessee) and UCLA (who has been pounded by most everyone else they have played).
Let's face it. Tennessee fans have a right to be upset and they also know when they are being given excuses rather than reasons.
Some people are saying Fulmer is the victim of past success. Don't believe it. The real truth is that there is a life cycle to a coach these days and Phil is past his. He just doesn't want to admit it to himself or others.
Penn State and FSU seem to be ok with letting their coaches stay long past their natural life spans in some attempt to be the school that can claim the title of having the coach with the most wins ever in college football. But other than those two schools, nobody else wants a coach that long anymore.
Phil's just not smart enough to know this. Spurrier (superior to Fulmer in almost every way including this one) knew it. After about a decade with the Gators, he stepped away. He had more success at Florida in that decade than Phil has had in his career, but he knew it was time to go.
When he left the NFL and was rumored to want back in the college game, the Florida AD called Spurrier before interviewing anyone else. Spurrier declined. That's because just like he knew when it was time to go, he also knew that you just can't go back. It will never be the same.
So Fulmer has outstayed his welcome and that has put fans in a restless mood and has created the following no-win situation for him. If he beats a quality opponent, the fans will ask why the team can't play with that effort, consistency and results all year long.
If he loses to a quality opponent, they will say he has lost the ability to win the big game and will cite his losing collective record against Florida, Bama, Georgia, Auburn, and LSU. If he loses to someone he shouldn't lose to, they'll say he can't even beat the teams he should anymore. If he beats someone he shouldn't lose to, they'll give him no credit as that was supposed to be a win.
He has just reached that point. He actually reached it last year but then lucked into the SEC championship which gave his buddy Hamilton an excuse not to do anything (and it doesn't seem to take much for Hamilton to take that stance with Fulmer).
Even die-hard Tennessee fans realize that Florida, having won the head to head with Tennessee, had to then lose three games last year for the Vols to "back into" the championship. Florida did happen to lose enough games which then opened that door.
This year, Phil finds himself needing that same door to be opened to keep his job but this year the odds are longer. Right now, Tennessee would have to win out and Florida lose twice more.
Not only does it look highly unlikely Tennessee wins out but Florida going 3-2 seems equally unlikely given they have games against Kentucky and South Carolina that seem pretty winnable for them. But when you take the odds of BOTH Tennessee winning out and Florida dropping 2 games together, Phil is truly behind the eight ball.
For one, I will be happy to see it. Tennessee is one of the only major programs in the SEC not to have made a significant coaching upgrade since 2000. Florida got Meyer and dropped Zook. Bama got Saban and dropped Shula. Georgia switched Donnan for Richt. Even LSU traded pretty even getting Miles after Saban left for the Dolphins. When you don't keep up, you get left behind. This isn't hard.
Tennessee fans are realizing this and are becoming much more vocal with both their words and their dollars. There is an uprising at UT and Phil is about to be shown just how wonderful retired life can be