The search for the next head coach of the University of Tennessee football team continues after Louisville's Charlie Strong rejected the Vols.
UT continues scouring the coaching landscape for the man who can get the Vols back on the road to gridiron glory like the program saw under Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer. A sentiment gaining momentum with many fans is to resume the search for the next Phillip Fulmer by interviewing Phillip Fulmer.
"There is great irony that here we are just a couple of days removed from Phillip Fulmer being inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame and Tennessee can't find a coach to save its life," said Chris Low, SEC blogger for ESPN.com
. "People that support Phillip Fulmer say, 'Well why not bring him back? Here's a guy who took you to your first National Championship in almost 50 years, won SEC championships, and understands what UT is all about more than anyone."
Fans for Fulmer posted a frenzy of messages online throughout Thursday. Common hash-tags on Twitter include #bringbackphil and #hirefulmer. The tweets in support of Fulmer have come from former players such as Jacques McClendon and current offensive lineman Alan Posie.
Fulmer's daughter, Allison Fulmer, also chimed in on the Vols' vacancy by tweeting, "I know someone who would take it."
Another thing in working in Fulmer's favor is the triumphant return of another Hall of Fame coach. Bill Snyder stepped down as head coach of Kansas State a few years ago and returned to become this year's Big 12 coach of the year. The Wildcats finished this season one win shy of a trip to the BCS Championship Game.
UT professor Dr. Fritz Polite teaches sports management and serves on the executive committee of the faculty senate. Polite's son played football for Snyder at Kansas State. Polite said he believes Fulmer's body of work would at least warrant an interview.
"My son played at Kansas State and developed a close relationship with Coach Snyder. I understand the situation is different at the University of Tennessee for a few reasons. First, Snyder was not fired at Kansas State like Fulmer was here. Then you also consider Snyder is the only coach to ever have success at K-State, so bringing him back there is not the same situation as Tennessee where you have previous legendary coaches like Neyland," said Polite. "But if you look at Fulmer's body of work and the success he had at the University of Tennessee, I just find it confusing why he wouldn't be at least considered. The criteria mentioned for candidates were things like he has to have head coaching experience, he [Fulmer] has that. From a scholarly data standpoint, if you found another candidate who had Fulmer's winning percentage, who had won a national championship, who was in the College Football Hall of Fame, you have to think that person would get a look."
Polite acknowledged the numbers work against Fulmer in terms of the lull in winning percentages at the end of his stint at UT.
Even if Fulmer gains the support of the average UT fan, the question remains whether those boosters who sit in the not-so-cheap seats would sign off on a future with Fulmer.
"Mike Hamilton [UT former athletic director] was not on an island by himself when he fired Phillip Fulmer in 2008. He had the support of all the money-people, all the prominent boosters," said Low. "For them to bring Phillip Fulmer back now, you know those people would be admitting publicly, 'well, you know what, we made a mistake.' I am not sure they're ever going to do that."
Low said Fulmer would also be a potentially divisive choice for a fractured fan base.
"He would certainly be polarizing, but at this point you also consider anyone they hire is going to be polarizing. The cat is out of the bag that that UT has not gotten its first choice. There is a feeling among some people who say Tennessee has botched this thing," said Low. "More than anything, I think what is working against Fulmer does not have anything to do with him personally. It is just rare for any program or any sport to bring back a former coach and try to recreate history."
Low said there is no indication that UT would possibly contact Fulmer about the job.
"I've learned to never say never in this business, but I seriously doubt Phillip will be considered."
However, Low also said there is no doubt Fulmer would answer the call.
"He was here for more than 30 years at Tennessee. He absolutely would love to come back, if nothing else to help his alma mater. What has happened to Tennessee has hurt Phillip Fulmer as much as anyone. If this [coaching search] drags on into next week, you're going to have more people jumping on that Phillip Fulmer bandwagon," said Low.
WBIR contacted Phillip Fulmer's assistant on Thursday afternoon and directly asked if the former coach has any active interest in pursuing the UT job. As of Thursday night, Fulmer was yet to respond to our inquiry.
In a Tuesday interview on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, Fulmer indirectly expressed interest in the job.
"If I have the opportunity to coach at a very special place, and Tennessee is a very special place, then absolutely I would take advantage of it. I'd probably, really quickly, put all of my staff back together, or most of them, and get back to work," said Fulmer.