Tennessee quarterback competition owns the spotlight. Thousands, maybe a million, anxiously await the outcome.
Off stage, the irony of ironies is unfolding. Phillip Fulmer and Jeremy Pruitt are joined at the hip.
Fulmer, unceremoniously dumped by his alma mater after a Hall of Fame coaching career, never went far away. He maintained his dignity and reemerged to lead a rescue mission. Ironic, indeed, that he wasn’t good enough for one job but the best man for the next, unifying the multitude and saving Tennessee football from itself.
Pruitt, all Alabama, through and through, was going to be a head coach somewhere. Fulmer saved him from Mississippi State or Vanderbilt or some truly mediocre starting point.
To Pruitt’s credit, he was brave enough to accept the Tennessee challenge, to pick up the pieces of the Butch Jones era and turn the Vols in a positive direction. Money is a great motivator.
It is ironic that those who thought they were disposing of Fulmer are long gone and he is here. Mike Hamilton botched the original move. He did not pre-arrange a replacement. John Currie undermined his own foundation, serving as point man in putting down Fulmer.
Currie advanced for a time but when Dr. Beverly Davenport brought him back, it was to shaky ground. John may not have felt it but an earthquake was waiting to happen.
Incidentally, Bev had no idea what she was doing. Somebody with influence presented the plan.
Ironic that Tennessee turned to Alabama for the eventual solution. The two have been spirited rivals since Gene McEver returned the opening kickoff in 1928. Through the decades, there have been highs and lows and assorted streaks. The Tide now rules the football world but Fulmer went 10-5-1 in his time.
Fulmer has never been all that popular in Alabama. Partisans are still absolutely certain he turned in the Tide for cheating in Memphis. The penalty was severe.
Fulmer once skipped SEC Media Days in Birmingham because others were concerned about his safety and he wanted to avoid a subpoena from attorneys representing a former Alabama assistant coach. Fulmer was fined for his absence.
Fulmer choosing Pruitt confused some Alabama fans. They couldn’t decide if it was a compliment or a shot across the bow. Was he trying to strengthen Tennessee or weaken the Tide?
Fulmer choosing Pruitt confused some Tennessee fans. It appears the new athletic director did not fear a backlash. Desperate times required desperate measures.
Pruitt comes with no head-coaching experience. Fulmer had none when he moved up. Doug Dickey was new to the role. Robert R. Neyland was an end coach before he became a legend.
Fulmer and Pruitt are near enough in football fundamentals to be compatible. They are different as people. Compared to Pruitt, Fulmer is smooth, graceful and tactful.
Compared to Pruitt, Fulmer has double or triple the football miles, a hundred more victories than defeats plus a national championship. You are correct, Pruitt has been in the middle of several national championships.
It is ironic that how Pruitt does in his new job will determine how Fulmer does in his. They will be forever associated.
Phillip may accomplish great things – encourage donors, pay down the debt, bring back more old Vols, rework contracts, support women’s sports, even remove the woo from the famous theme song.
What really matters is the football won-lost record. Football is the engine that powers the money machine.
Fulmer has said aloud that the restoration of football is the No. 1 mission. Fulmer made that Pruitt’s job. If the coach achieves greatness and fame, the athletic director will be seated at the head table when awards are handed out.
The two are, indeed, linked but Pruitt has one advantage. If he falls flat, he can get up and start over. If Pruitt fails, Fulmer is down for the count.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org