Fulmer made correct call in 1994

Spencer S. HarrisFeature

Marvin West’s excellent piece from August 22, Which Vol Freshmen Will Play, reminded me of all the criticism Coach Fulmer endured during the 1994 season when he rotated two freshmen, Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart, in the quarterback position for several games. #1 Jerry Colquitt was out for the season with a knee injury; #2 Todd Helton also suffered a knee injury and reportedly took himself out of the picture thinking ahead to his future in baseball. At the time, I guess I really didn’t think it was such a big deal; couple of high-school hotshots – pick one. I was probably more concerned about Helton’s future as a baseball player; and certainly, nobody knew what a superstar Peyton would become.

My daughter, Carrera, was diving on Dave Parrington’s junior diving club team at UT along with Phillip’s middle daughter, Brittany. I would drive Carrera to practice from our home in Farragut with son Spencer Jr. Junior and I would slip in and out of diving practice to toss baseball on the track infield behind the Aquatic Center. Phillip would often walk over to the pool after his football duties, and we would watch from the pool deck and chat like typical, interested parents.

One day, I asked him if he was sick and tired of the media criticism of his coaching decisions. He shrugged his shoulders and replied “…that comes with the territory. I recruited both these boys; visited their high school practices; met their coaches and parents and had dinner in their homes. I promised both of them they would have the opportunity to play quarterback for the University of Tennessee, and I will honor my word. I’ll announce which one gets the starting job when I’m ready…” (In confidence he told me that Peyton was the smartest player that he’d ever coached, and if he had to decide right now it would be Manning – BUT, he didn’t have to decide right now.) He did the right thing, made the right choice and I will always remember Coach Fulmer as a man of character.

In the stands during the trophy ceremony in Tempe in January ‘99, I recalled the 1994 conversation with Coach Fulmer; confident that I knew something about the man’s integrity that few other fans in attendance did. I was so very pleased that he was there, representing our Alma Mater.

Former Knoxville resident Spencer S. Harris now lives in Shafter, California.

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