Column: Don’t Expect Fulmer on the Sidelines Anytime Soon

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Conspiracy theories in sports are about as popular as they are in politics. Fans love to create stories and narratives when a new hire is made, a call doesn’t go their team’s way, or for many other reasons. Vol fans have been known to construct their own theories over the years, especially ones regarding Jon Gruden.

    Now there is another theory floating around from Vol fans, and it has to do with Phillip Fulmer.

    Once Fulmer was hired as an advisor to the University of Tennessee’s president, some fans began to wonder if, in a worst case scenario in 2017 or 2018, Fulmer could end up back on the sidelines as Tennessee’s head football coach.

    That won’t happen. And there are many reasons why.

    If Butch Jones is fired mid-season in either 2017 or 2018, Fulmer won’t be the first choice to serve as interim head coach. He shouldn’t even be the second, third, or fourth choice to step in as a replacement head coach for Tennessee. As much as some fans would love to see Fulmer back on the sideline and clapping along to the Vols making big plays, that is only the stuff of dreams.

    First of all, the probability of Jones being fired mid-season (at least in 2017) is fairly low. Unless the Vols get off to a disastrous start or collapse in October after a less than ideal beginning, Jones will be the head coach for all of 2017. But even if he were fired before the end of the 2017 season or is let go during the 2018 season, Fulmer is far from the most logical choice as interim head coach.

    Fulmer’s offensive philosophy as a head coach is almost polar opposite of Jones’ system. That alone would make him an extremely unlikely candidate to come in and maintain the ship mid-season. The fit would be less than ideal. But that’s not the only reason Fulmer wouldn’t be Tennessee’s head coach again, however.

    Tennessee’s coordinators, Larry Scott and Bob Shoop, have head coaching aspirations in their career. Scott has even served as an interim head coach before, guiding the Miami Hurricanes to a 4-2 record in his six games as interim head coach. Those two would be much more likely candidates to serve as an interim head coach for the Vols because they’ve been on staff for two years and deserve to show what they can bring as head coaches.

    Not only that, but Brady Hoke, Tennessee’s defensive line coach and associate head coach, also has head coaching experience. And a lot of it. Hoke was a head coach for Ball State, San Diego State, and Michigan and went 78-70 in his 12 seasons as head coach.

    There’s also the possibility of what would happen if Fulmer did take over and the team struggled and ended up bottoming out and failing to make a bowl. Vol fans want to see Fulmer succeed, not fail. And if for some reason he couldn’t get the job done as an interim head coach, fans would be severely disappointed, and it would add another unnecessarily painful chapter to Fulmer’s legacy.

    Yes, seeing Fulmer back on the sidelines would bring excitement to what would be a disappointing season at that point. But it wouldn’t be the best move for the current team or the future of the program. Fulmer deserved a better send-off than what he got, but this wouldn’t be the correct way to give him a better send-off a second time around. He’s better off earning that by the work he does in the administration and helping improve the university as a whole.

    Tennessee has more logical, less risky options to temporarily replace Butch Jones should he be let go mid-season this year or the next. Having Fulmer on the sidelines again would be fun to watch for many fans, and it would spark many trips down memory lane. But it’s little more than a conspiracy theory and is highly unlikely to ever happen.

    Be glad Fulmer is back with UT, but don’t expect him to be back on the sidelines any time soon.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.