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VOL. 41 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 08, 2017
Grading 50 years of UT athletic directors
Ultimately, Phillip Fulmer’s success or failure as Tennessee’s athletics director will be tied to his very first hire. If his pick wins enough football games, Fulmer has done his job.
Here is a look at the five men who preceded Fulmer at UT over the last half century and how they handled their responsibilities:
Bob Woodruff, 1963-84: On a campus that bears so many names on different buildings and streets, Woodruff is largely ignored. It’s a major oversight. On his watch, UT rose to prominence as an overall athletics program, both in terms of performance on the field but also when it came to facilities. Woodruff hired such successful coaches as Doug Dickey (football), Ray Bussard (swimming) and Stan Huntsman (track).
Perhaps Woodruff’s most questionable move was elevating Bill Battle to head coach when Dickey left UT for Florida after the 1969 season. Battle had considerable success with the players Dickey had recruited but ultimately stumbled and was fired in 1976. Woodruff then hired John Majors. Grade: B+
Doug Dickey, 1985-2002: Dickey alienated a lot of fans when he instituted a new system for fundraising, but it was the right move at the right time and helped fortify the UT athletics budget. His no-nonsense approach was never more evident than during the 1992 football season when he ousted John Majors and gave the job to Fulmer.
On the downside, Dickey failed repeatedly when hiring men’s basketball coaches. He was right to fire Don DeVoe in 1989, but the hiring of Wade Houston was a disaster. Overall, though, he did a very good job of getting UT sports up to speed in terms of finances. Grade: B
Mike Hamilton, 2003-11: Dickey was a tough act to follow, but Hamilton had his moments. He oversaw the renovation of Thompson-Boling Arena and also refurbished Neyland Stadium. He hired Bruce Pearl, who brought unprecedented success to the men’s basketball program.
But Pearl flamed out after lying to NCAA investigators, and Hamilton handled his dismissal poorly. Also, it was Hamilton who hired first Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley as football coaches. He left the program in a financial bind. Grade: C–
Dave Hart, 2011-17: Hart gets high marks for getting the athletics program back on solid financial footing. He also recognized that Derek Dooley wasn’t getting it done as football coach. Hart’s hire, Butch Jones, did well early in his career but bottomed out last season, after Hart had departed.
Although he contended that wasn’t the case, Hart failed to adequately vet Donnie Tyndall before he was hired as basketball coach after the Cuonzo Martin left. Hart fired Tyndall after NCAA baggage was exposed. Also, Hart’s decision to strike the “Lady Vols” name from every women’s team except basketball never made sense. Grade: C+
John Currie, 2017: Currie made it through eight months of a six-year contract and left the football program in a mess. Some say they believe he waited too long to fire Butch Jones, but you have to remember that UT was coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons before things went belly-up this year.
Currie’s most significant accomplishment in his short tenure was rolling back his immediate predecessor’s decision to do away with the “Lady Vols” name and logo. But when you fail so miserably in your attempts to hire a football coach, history will not remember you kindly. Grade: F
Phillip Fulmer, 2017: His first order of business is stabilizing the football program, but Fulmer likely will face other big decisions in the near future. Holly Warlick could be facing a make-or-break season with the Lady Vols. Other sports have slipped and additional coaching changes may be necessary.
Beyond that, Fulmer’s biggest challenge is to repair the fractures in UT’s fan base. As a football coach, one of his greatest strengths was to get everybody pulling in the same direction. If he can do that in his new role, it will be quite an accomplishment. Grade: To be determined
-- David Climer