By Steve Williams
In 1977 University of Tennessee chancellor Jack Reese had a little fun with the media when he introduced Johnny Majors, one of the Vols’ all-time greats, as Tennessee’s new head football coach.
“Ladies and gentlemen, after an extensive nationwide search,” said Reese, with a slight grin sneaking out over his face, “I’m pleased to have a small part in welcoming Coach Majors …”
Laughter rippled through the gathering of press members as Majors, who had guided Pittsburgh to the 1976 national championship not long before then, made his way to the podium.
That was 40 years ago, and UT hasn’t had an easier hire to make in its athletic department since then, until now.
(Holly replacing Pat was certainly expected, but I’m not counting it due to the sad events leading to that opening)
The only tough thing about the much talked about hiring of today – the selection of a new athletic director – is there are two excellent candidates to choose from. David Blackburn and Phillip Fulmer also are UT guys, the first prerequisite for the position, as far as Volunteer fans are concerned.
There was no need for a search firm, not at all. But UT hired one. What a waste of time and energy and tax dollars.
In her first at-bat as UT’s new chancellor, Dr. Beverly Davenport gets a look at an underhand lob over the middle of the plate. The only way she can strike out is if she picks a new AD not named Blackburn or Fulmer. Otherwise, it will be a homerun hire.
I wouldn’t want to be Beverly if she doesn’t homer. This fan base has been down for too long already and should be heard and obliged on this one.
Dr. Davenport and her all-star search committee just needs to look at the two candidates – and only these two – and what they have to offer.
Blackburn is about 20 years younger than the 66-year-old Fulmer and has a lot of experience in athletic administration, having cut his teeth in the business at UT-Knoxville before going on to become the athletic director at UT-Chattanooga, where he has been super successful.
As UT fans know, Fulmer played football at UT, and then rose through the Vol coaching ranks as an offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and head coach. He guided the Vols to the 1998 national championship and was the program’s second winningest coach when he was forced to resign in 2008 by then AD Mike Hamilton.
Fulmer can’t match Blackburn in athletic administration, but he has money and also is believed to have the backing of UT’s wealthiest boosters, some who are on the selection committee.
Blackburn would be the best choice for the long run, but Fulmer will be the pick because of money.
That – money – is always the deciding factor these days.
The best scenario would be if both came aboard to run UT athletics. Blackburn, however, already has publicly indicated he will not be the No. 2 guy, and that’s understandable, considering the progress he has made in his field.
Fulmer hasn’t indicated if he would be the No. 2 guy or not, so that remains a possibility. Reportedly, Fulmer threw his hat in the ring only when he heard Blackburn, a good friend and former associate in the Vols’ football program, wasn’t going to be given strong consideration for the post. Fulmer feels strongly about a UT guy being behind the wheel.
Personally, I will be glad when Fulmer takes over the reins of the UT Athletic Department. He will strive to make UT strong in all sports once again. He is smart when it comes to managing money and will surround himself with advisors to handle matters he lacks expertise. With his deep roots in UT, he also will excel in fund raising, and much more than Blackburn could.
The most important duty of an athletic director is producing championship programs. To be successful at it, an AD has to have coaches who can win championships. Fulmer will excel in this most important area as well. He’s been there and was a winner and a champion.
I look forward to seeing the Vols and Lady Vols climb back up in the all-sports rankings on the SEC and national levels.
Hopefully, Blackburn will still be interested in filling the UT post someday when Fulmer is ready to retire.