KNOXVILLE — A sacrifice of historical proportions is being widely discussed by a faction of outspoken Tennessee fans.
The idea: Allow the rest of the season to fall apart, lose a bulk of the games including today’s against Northern Illinois and hope for a change at the top.
It’s a rare scenario when fans actually root for their team to lose for the perceived betterment of the program’s future.
The goal is for the team to finish so poorly that Coach Phillip Fulmer’s $6 million buyout to be paid over 48 months does not become an issue, and that boosters will step up to foot the bill. A national coaching search would follow and for disgruntled UT fans, a new era of UT football.
A sampling of comments taken from UT fans last week revealed supporters of the movement and a handful of detractors. But a common thread emerged. Each expressed frustration with a losing record (1-3), a winless start in the Southeastern Conference (0-2) and the luster lost from a once-proud powerhouse.
“I don’t think it’s going to get done without a change,” said Tracy Larabee, 48, a CPA from Oak Ridge and 20-year season ticket holder. “Nobody can say they dislike the person — he’s a really good guy — but the last eight years, they haven’t been able to beat the teams they need (to beat) to be successful.”
Fulmer still has a strong support network, however. His believers point to his No. 7 ranking on the Southeastern Conference’s all-time wins list. They also note Fulmer’s .755 winning percentage, which is the second-highest for any active coach with a minimum of 10 years experience.
Knoxville resident Rusty Farrell, 59, is one of those supporters. He is a major donor to Lady Vols athletics and has been a football season ticket holder since 1980.
“I would be one to let the season play out,” Farrell said. “I think Phillip has done a good job over the years. For whatever reason they don’t have the players or are missing talent at key positions. It’s too early to throw the coach under the bus.”
Others are more than willing to, however. And they point to Fulmer’s 14-14 record during his last 28 SEC games.
“I think he’s overpaid for the job he’s doing,” said Knoxville-area resident Janie Edwards, 44. “It’s time for him to go. I think we need a change.”