Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer met with the media Tuesday
Mike Wilson, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
In the high-stakes realm of college athletics that Tennessee calls home, everything is open to speculation. That includes relationships between coaches and their bosses, the athletic directors.
Phillip Fulmer has settled into his second year running UT’s athletic department. Recently, his relationship with men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes was a hot topic. UCLA and Barnes very nearly consummated a deal that would have left Fulmer with a high-profile coaching search – days after he secured a new women’s basketball coach.
In the end, Fulmer kept Barnes in Knoxville and Barnes said all the right things about Fulmer’s support.
We hear about an athletic director wanting to hire “his guys” for key coaching or administrative jobs. And when a coach decides to jump from one school to another, his comfort level with the athletic director who hired him is certainly a key component.
So I’m wondering how Buzz Williams, the brand new basketball coach, and Jimbo Fisher, the football coach of one season, are feeling at Texas A&M now that their AD, Scott Woodard, left for LSU. But that’s for Aggie fans to fret over.
More: Phillip Fulmer: Tennessee athletics trending up, building culture better than past decade
Getting back to UT, I’m also wondering how many athletic departments have head coaches hired by four different bosses. When a staff meeting is convened, there’s “his guy” and “his guy” and “his guy” and “her guy.’’ Several of those guys, of course, are gals.
Tennessee’s diverse staff that reflects the instability in the AD’s office. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just an interesting one.
Here’s how it breaks down:
Fulmer took over as AD on Dec. 1, 2017. It’s been a busy 17 months.
His signature hire is football coach Jeremy Pruitt. So far, so good.
Right off the bat, Fulmer hired Eve Rackham as volleyball coach. Rackham was an assistant at her alma mater, North Carolina. She has directed the biggest one-season turnaround in program history.
Fulmer hired Brennan Webb as men’s golf coach last June. Webb had been head coach at Middle Tennessee State.
Last month, Fulmer brought Kellie Harper home to replace Holly Warlick as women’s basketball coach. The choice wasn’t a national splash but was popular in traditional Lady Vol circles.
More: Phillip Fulmer: ‘Essential’ to hire coach with Lady Vols ties, like Kellie Harper
John Currie, Fulmer’s short-lived predecessor, leaves behind two hires that look solid. Tony Vitello appears to have baseball digging out of its SEC rut. Chris Woodruff, a longtime UT assistant and former All-American, has re-energized men’s tennis.
Dave Hart’s five-plus years (2011-2017) are still evident. Barnes was his finest legacy, steering men’s basketball out of the Donnie Tyndall detour and back into the SEC and national spotlight.
Brian Pensky (soccer), Alison Ojeda (women’s tennis) and Beth Alford-Sullivan (track and field director) are Hart hires. Hart also elevated Matt Kredich from Lady Vols swim coach to director of the combined men’s and women’s program.
Finally, there are holdovers from the Joan Cronan era, when the women’s department was separate from the men. Ralph and Karen Weekly (softball), Lisa Glenn (rowing) and Judi Pavon (women’s golf) are the longest-tenured coaches on campus. Kredich was also originally a Cronan hire.
Harper, the newest coach, joins Woodruff and Ojeda – and Fulmer – as former UT athletes representing their alma mater.
From my view in the nosebleed seats, I can’t point to any coach who’s on a hot seat.
Whether anybody will spot Fulmer and Barnes this summer sitting by a campfire in Elkmont, harmonizing on their favorite Eagles hits, remains to be seen.
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