By Alex Norman
The hiring of Phillip Fulmer brought some much-needed stability to the University of Tennessee’s athletics department. For the first time in a long time, everyone knows who is in charge. Finally, there’s an adult in the room.
But if you thought that Fulmer alone could solve the UTAD problem, think again. There are mistakes that will take years to correct, and Fulmer might not be around when they are solved.
Let’s talk about the problems at the top. UT President Joe DiPietro fired UT Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport a couple of weeks ago in a very public fashion. His dismissal letter to Davenport held nothing back, when traditionally all you read is something along the lines of “We thank Dr. Davenport for her service to the University.”
It was also an awful situation when you consider how many mistakes Tennessee has made with regards to Title IX and the Lady Vols name change debacle. Whether or not DiPietro felt this way about Davenport, it’s an awful look to say these things in public about the first woman Chancellor at UT-Knoxville. He later said that the firing wasn’t personal.
The well-respected Wayne Davis, dean of the school of engineering at UT, will take over for Davenport on an interim basis.
While DiPietro showed lousy PR skills in the firing of Davenport, the move likely was inevitable. Shortly after Davenport got to Knoxville, she hired John Currie as Tennessee athletics director. There were two other candidates with Tennessee ties (David Blackburn and Fulmer) that would have been slam dunk choices, but Davenport was adamant about hiring an AD with Power 5 conference experience.
Currie had no choice but to fire Butch Jones as Tennessee’s football coach, then oversaw the most-inept coaching search in the history of college football. Davenport pledged her support for Currie in the days that followed before eventually firing him. This was her guy, and he screwed up big time. Davenport was smart enough to then bring in Fulmer to right the ship, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Davenport was a terrible communicator. She was uneasy in front of microphones, which is a bad fit for someone that is supposed to get the University’s message to the public. In a sign that truth is truly stranger than fiction, she is now eligible to make over $438,000 a year… to teach in the Communications Department. She will likely teach one class per semester, a ridiculous amount of coin.
Meanwhile, back in the AD, new head coach Jeremy Pruitt has started to resemble his old boss Nick Saban… but not in ways that benefit a struggling football program like the one Pruitt is now running. He greatly limited player access to the media during the spring. No players were available to the media after the Orange & White Game in April. The media haven’t been able to interview assistant coaches since Pruitt was hired back in December.
Pruitt took a tour of the WVLT and Cumulus Radio studios a couple of weeks back. This is something that the coach must do once a year. Pruitt looks like he was being tortured, rarely smiling in pictures posted to social media.
Promotion doesn’t seem to be Pruitt’s specialty. He’s a football coach and wants to spend his work doing just that. But that’s a big ‘ol barn you are trying to sell out seven times a year. The more publicity the better, especially for a team that just had its worst campaign in the 121 seasons they’ve been playing the sport.
The Orange & White Game is a fan friendly event which is much easier on the wallet. Tickets are free, and parking is much simpler. Traditionally, there was an autograph session for fans. They wait in line for hours to meet their heroes. But Pruitt cut that out this time around. Tennessee said there would be an opportunity later in the year, but that doesn’t do anything for the fans that came to campus a month ago. It might seem like a little thing, but it is also a sign that the new regime doesn’t fully understand the Tennessee way just yet.
The administration has come work to do.
The football program has some work to do.
Tennessee isn’t back just yet.