Tennessee Deserves Better

November 10, 2007

Finally!  In last Sunday’s Knoxville News Sentinel Mark Packer wrote a column, Times Are Good Despite What Naysayers Say, addressing all the nonsense surrounding Tennessee Volunteer football, and particularly the performance and future of Coach Phil Fulmer.

Then Friday nearly 200 former Tennessee football players – including 63 of my old friends and former teammates – wrote an open letter to the university administration and athletic department expressing support for Coach Fulmer because of the quality of character and product he has maintained at UT.

I wish I had known about that letter. I would have gladly, and with no hesitation, added my signature to that list.

Fulmer has done an excellent job during his tenure.  As Packer wrote, he is largely victim of the expectations created by his own success. That, and the victim of the poisonous pens of a gaggle of self-serving, rabble rousing sportswriters employed around the state.

Tennessee deserves better.

That’s a phrase I have read, written both verbatim and in various ways by John Adams of the News Sentinel, Bucky Dent of the Bristol Herald Courrier, and John Moorehouse of the Kingsport Times News.  I’m sure there are others.

I concur. Tennessee does deserve better. But not in the direction they point their pens.

All of these writers have asserted that, despite the past successes, the character of the man, and the current parity of college football, Coach Fulmer should be bought out of his contract – essentially fired. They reason that excellence is not enough, Tennessee deserves better.

So I want to point the pen in the other direction – at these writers.  And I suggest that Tennessee deserves better.

I write this as Tennessee sits alone atop the SEC East standings; in control of their own destiny to play in the SEC Championship Game.  It has been only a matter of a few minutes since the Vols soundly routed what was perhaps the biggest obstacle in the path – Darren McFadden and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Only Vanderbilt and Kentucky loom ahead.

I propose that if UT closes out these two remaining games with victories, and earns a berth in the Championship game, that these – and other like-minded writers – should be bought out of their contracts; that the publishers of their respective newspapers should hand over their typewriters to new columnists.  These men, despite whatever personal character and professional excellence they have demonstrated in the past, should simply be terminated.  Why? Because Tennessee deserves better.

I know it is only a game, but obviously they think that perfection – or near perfection – is the only acceptable standard. And they don’t currently measure up.  After all their naysaying – which does not help in recruiting or to fill stadium seats – if UT plays for the championship, clearly they have let us down. They have not lived up to this arbitrary standard of excellence they have each stated they believe we deserve. So, perhaps someone else – anyone else – could do a better job of keeping us accurately abreast of the inner-workings of our favorite team.

I’ll finish with two thoughts.

First, do you have any question UT can pull off two more wins? Yes? That itself should demonstrate that things have changed; that college football is not the way it used to be.  You cannot measure success the same way. Both Vanderbilt and Kentucky are GOOD.  They are both quite capable of winning. (And Kentucky even wins with my old friend, Randy Sanders, coaching. These same writers passionately pointed out a couple years ago that Randy couldn’t coach. So much for their expertise about football matters, huh?)

Parity has changed the landscape. No longer can a few schools expect to dominate every year.  Notre Dame, Nebraska, Florida State, Miami?  Not much to watch these days. Kentucky, Kansas, Rutgers, Connecticut?  Watch out!

Finally, do I really think these men will loose their jobs if Coach Fulmer continues to rally the team? No.  Do I really think they deserve to? Absolutely not. (And frankly, I suspect, neither would the Phillip Fulmer I knew think so.)  It is only a game.

While it is proper that we desire excellence, the measure needs to be far more reasonable than near perfection. And no one should take it as seriously as apparently some do. Some people simply need to get a life!  And some sportswriters oughta stop irresponsibly provoking people to act like spoiled brats.

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