Boclair: Vols' continued struggles provide perspective on, opportunity for Fulmer

Monday, November 15, 2010 at 11:00pm

Funny how distance alters perspective.

Take the case of former University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer. The more distance he gets from his former job — and his unceremonious departure — the better he looks.

It’s not even the fact that some of the Volunteer faithful probably have changed their opinion of his performance over 17 years that matters. It’s how Fulmer is likely viewed outside of Knoxville that is important.

It’s getting to the point that, if he so chooses, it ought to be fairly easy for Fulmer to get back into coaching.

Seriously. No longer is he a guy saddled with the stink of two losing seasons over a four-year stretch (2005 through 2008). Those look like the good old days in the context of the current Volunteers, who, one week into November, were the only team without a Southeastern Conference victory this season.

Less and less does Fulmer look like a guy who hung around too long and eventually fell out of touch. In the wake of the one-and-done act by Lane Kiffin, the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go offseason antics of Florida’s Urban Meyer, and the failed NFL attempts of Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino, Fulmer’s sense of loyalty becomes that much more attractive.

The fact that his teams never finished worse than second in the SEC East in consecutive years speaks to a level of consistency that would be welcomed this fall at places such as Texas, USC and Louisville.

Yes, he had discipline problems, but the vast majority of major football programs in the country have discipline problems, including many of the leading contenders for this year’s national championship.

Fulmer recruited well enough that there almost always were capable players available to step in when someone was suspended, kicked off the team or injured. Contrast that with the current UT roster, which has gaping holes.

In short, Fulmer made and kept Tennessee relevant on the national college landscape for nearly two decades. That is not the case now, but with the current shift in conference alignments, there are plenty of other schools looking for a bite of the BCS pie.

All of this makes Fulmer an easy sell to an alumni base and a board of trustees for virtually any school that decides to make a change this offseason. Of course, every offseason involves that sort of change.The only question now is whether Fulmer wants to get back into coaching.

In the past two years, he has settled into a broadcaster’s chair at a CBS studio many Saturdays. That offers little insight, as the television analyst gig is one that typically serves two purposes — either it keeps a man’s name and face out there to help him get another coaching job, or it offers an easy transition into the next phase of life. It’s not coaching, but he’s not exactly out of the game either.

Fulmer is not likely motivated by spite. His public stance toward UT has definitely softened, so it’s not as if he would take a job just to prove to Mike Hamilton and others that he still can do it.

If Fulmer gets back into coaching at this point, it’s likely he’ll do so for no other reason than that he wants to.

Good thing, too. At this point, Fulmer is a guy a lot of people probably would want coaching their team. The same was not true two years ago.