3. Did Fulmer Deserve to go?
RCS: In On Rocky Top, you spend a chapter weighing the pros and cons of then head coach Phil Fulmer ("Dueling Fulmers") when it becomes clear that his job in jeopardy. After your analysis, you are still unsure of what Fulmer's future should be. Obviously, Fulmer did indeed step down at the end of last season, after 17 years in Knoxville.
After it all, did Phillip Fulmer -- a man you say reminded you of your dad -- deserve to go?
Travis: That's the six million dollar question, right?
I'm still of two minds on that. From a purely business perspective, yes. From a purely fan perspective, I don't think so.
Now let me unpack that: I think it depends on whether you're willing to treat your passion as a business or not. If it's a business then Tennessee football needs to be run like a business. If it's not a business, then it doesn't.
Mike Hamilton, the athletic director, has to run the school like a business. If 10,000 less people are showing up for every football game, eventually that becomes untenable for the athletic program. The money doesn't work. In fact, Tennessee athletics came in 2 million under projections last fall because football didn't go to a bowl game and undersold their tickets.
But what I get at in the book is Tennessee football as something more than a business, as a connection that binds a people to their state. And from that perspective, I think it's hard to justify firing a guy who has gone 152-52, won a national title, graduated and played for your school. The subtitle of the book is On Rocky Top: A Front-Row Seat to the End of an Era. And I think that's really appropriate. Phil Fulmer represented the final regional element in a league and sport that's gone national. Fulmer was the last coach, in a league that used to be full of them, to have graduated from and played for his school.
Now CBS and ESPN have pledged billions of dollars for the telecasts and we get hired mercenaries as coaches, guys like Lane Kiffin, Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban. Guys who are very good at what they do, but not Southern football guys. Can you imagine any of these guys crying at their press conference like Phil Fulmer did? Could Lane Kiffin have put Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville in the correct geographic regions of the state a year ago? I wonder.
So I think it depends on your perspective, as an AD he had to go, as a fan, I don't think I would have let him go.