By Steve Williams
Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will the University of Tennessee’s athletics program be quickly rebuilt, but Phillip Fulmer is off to a good start.
Fulmer, in just his second year as UT’s athletic director, has to be smiling today.
On the heels of Tennessee’s women taking top honors in this year’s Southeastern Conference All-Sports standings and its men’s program placing third, UT made good improvement on the national scene.
Tennessee finished 25th in the final Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup standings for 2018-19 – its best showing in eight years.
While that is good news, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done in this rebuilding job.
Improvements made by the Vols and Lady Vols in the all-sports competition this past school year was substantial, but they still have a long way to go to return to their place among the best in the nation, a place they occupied consistently decades ago.
This year, Tennessee was eighth best among the 14 SEC members in the national rankings. That’s three spots higher than last year and four better than its 12th place finish among SEC schools in 2016-17.
What I’m trying to say is: It’s okay to smile today, but it’s not good enough to throw a party or have a parade.
And for the headline I saw on the UT athletics website Friday: “Tennessee finishes strong in Directors’ Cup, Lands in Top 25” … Come on. Let’s don’t get carried away.
Tennessee was 46th overall in the national rankings in 2016-17 and 35th in 2017-18. Can it get to 15th in 2019-2020? That should be the goal for now.
Football did not contribute points to this year’s 25th place finish. That has to change.
Tennessee also didn’t tally points in women’s cross-country or rowing.
Women’s basketball was the lowest point contributor among the winter sports. The Lady Vols were fortunate to extend their NCAA tournament streak to 38. Hopefully, new coach Kellie Harper in time will return what once was the nation’s top program to prominence.
This past spring, the men’s and women’s outdoor track programs each scored one point in the NCAA Championships … Strong finish?
We’ll wrap up with positive notes …
Best national showings of the year: women’s soccer team advancing to NCAA quarterfinals and women’s swimming and diving team placing eighth in NCAA.
Best comebacks: First-year coach Eve Rackham returning the volleyball team to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years and the baseball team under second-year coach Tony Vitello making the NCAA tourney field for the first time since 2005.
It’s a good start.