UT athletics looking up under Fulmer, except for track

By Steve Williams

I’ve always heard time goes by faster when you’re busy or having a good time. Maybe that’s why Phillip Fulmer’s 100th day on the job as UT’s new Director of Athletics flew right past me.

When I counted up the days a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that day had already come and gone.

If I counted correctly, the 100th day fell on March 10 – the day the basketball Vols rolled past Arkansas 84-66 in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.

We were definitely having a good time then, having just watched Rick Barnes’ team capture the SEC regular season championship and looking forward to seeing how the Vols would do in the post-season and NCAA tournament.

Today (April 2) is actually the 124th day since Fulmer was named to the post by Chancellor Beverly Davenport. That special day was Dec. 1.

The former longtime Tennessee head coach and Volunteer offensive guard had been serving as special advisor to UT President Joe DiPietro for community, athletics and university relations since June 20, 2017.

I won’t get into the wacky coaching search former AD John Currie had been conducting, but Davenport’s announcement that Fulmer was taking over was the best news I had heard out of Big Orange Country since Fulmer was wrongfully pushed out the door by Mike Hamilton during the 2008 football season.

Not much had seemed to go right in Tennessee athletics since then.

It was a hectic start for the 67-year-old Fulmer, but calmness seemed to come over the UT athletics program right away.

Fulmer went right to work and had a new head football coach to introduce on Dec. 7

Phillip picked Jeremy Pruitt off the Alabama staff to replace Butch Jones, who had been fired by Currie during last season’s record-setting year (0-8 SEC, 4-8 overall).

Pruitt had been a highly regarded defensive coordinator at Alabama (2016-17), Georgia (2014-15) and Florida State (2013).

Fulmer also hired Eve Rackham as new head volleyball coach on Jan. 10, replacing Rob Patrick, who had resigned Dec. 6 after 21 seasons. The Lady Vols’ program had been slipping in recent years and needed a boost.

This is Rackham’s first head coaching position, but she had been at North Carolina for nine years and was UNC’s assistant head coach since 2013.

Fulmer rewarded Lady Vols soccer coach Brian Pensky with a four-year contract extension and raise on Jan. 18. Pensky had guided UT to the second round of the NCAA tournament last fall.

A week later, however, Fulmer may have made his first mistake as athletic director when he signed Beth Alford-Sullivan, the director of track and field and cross country, to a new contract through June of 2022. Her previous contract would have expired June 15 of this year.

What used to be one of the best track and cross country programs in the SEC is now one of the worst.

The latest poor showing was in this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships.

The Vols scored only three points and finished in a three-way tie with Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi for 53rd place. The Lady Vols tallied four points and placed 40th in a four-way tie with Campbell, FIU, North Carolina A&T and Penn State.

Penn State just happens to be where Alford-Sullivan previously held the same position from 2006-14 before coming to Tennessee.

In this year’s SEC Indoor Championships, Tennessee’s men placed seventh and its women 11th.

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