‘Eight men out’ is poor reflection on Volunteers

Marvin Westwestwords

Surprise, surprise, I have an opinion about “Eight men out” and salary reductions to offset a few dollars of the multi-million shortage for University of Tennessee athletics.

Tennessee takes great pride in being the Volunteer state.

Tennessee sports teams have been Volunteers almost forever.

That is different from wildcats and tigers and even wild hogs. The name Volunteers means something.

Alas, there is a serious breach in the ranks. Eighty per cent of Tennessee’s football coaching staff rejected Phillip Fulmer’s salary reduction plan, a little less than 10 per cent, modest in reality, to soften the impact of missing football revenue and possibly save jobs in the athletics department.

Seven assistant coaches and the strength coach are no longer linked to the Volunteer spirit. They disassociated themselves. They are still here but they are gone in my mind.

Their names, job assignments and salaries are:

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney ($1.6 million), defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley ($1 million), offensive line coach Will Friend ($800,000), quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke ($450,000), inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer ($350,000), outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton ($225,000), tight ends coach Joe Osovet ($225,000) and strength coach A.J. Artis ($200,000).

Fulmer didn’t ask Jeremy Pruitt to take a token reduction. The head coach chose to delay a $400,000 raise that was written into his most recent contract, signed in September. Pruitt’s salary is currently $3.846 million. Why he received a raise and contract extension is open to debate.

Fulmer is giving back 15 per cent. It just so happens that is more than he asked others to give. Fulmer’s salary is $900,000 plus bonuses.

Why did the assistants make this unpopular decision when everybody else in the department was taking cuts? Was it simple selfishness? Well, it is their money. They can do with it whatever they please, to hell with the fallout. They have already lost the popularity contest.

Fulmer, university leadership, the board of trustees and thousands of fans may be embarrassed but they have no recourse. Contracts are legally binding, signed in ink. Pay up. Pay in full.

I thought there were several things wrong with the group decision. It reflects poorly on Pruitt. He said he was not involved, that their decisions were personal. Maybe he should have been involved.

Be sure there is internal strife. It really looked awkward when Vols for Life Tee Martin and Jay Graham stepped forward and said OK, count us in. Perhaps they have a greater appreciation for their old coach, for what the university did for them and a much better understanding of “Tennessee Volunteers.”

Pruitt, at his Monday press conference, said there is more to the story. It sounds as if there has been a nuclear explosion and certain coaches are trying to find a way to change their position.

One KnoxTNToday reader suggested that assistants who said no may have been thinking of their self-defense fund, that the way the team is going, they could soon be unemployed, struggling along on buyouts, minus complimentary cars and other perks.

The reader said: “If their pay was based on productivity, they’d have to give it all back.”

Fans have already given. Many who purchased season tickets did not seek refunds. It’s a good thing there were no money-back guarantees to those who attended the Kentucky game.

Fulmer didn’t say but he must have taken the coaches’ rejection personally. He has been very supportive of the football program. He is still a coach at heart.

“Eight men out” is national news and free fodder for sizzling criticism. They have put Tennessee in a bad light.

So far, there is no “other” side to the story. Assistant coaches did not respond to my request for comments. Fulmer decided, for at least the time being, he has said enough.

“I am very grateful to all the athletic department employees and families that have taken a salary reduction and are showing support to our department during such a difficult time. They have helped prevent the need to eliminate positions as we continue to battle this pandemic and its medical and financial implications,” was his original statement to the News Sentinel.

“Unfortunately, there were some contract employees who did not agree to a reduction for their own reasons. But I am especially appreciative of all our head coaches and staff members who are doing their part for the greater good of the department.”

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com


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