The temperatures are starting to cool and the leaves are quickly morphing into the colors of fall.
Except in Knoxville.
Oh, the leaves are turning — and they’re beautiful this time of year. But it’s hardly cool there, at least not on the campus of the University of Tennessee. And certainly not in the football offices.
In fact if you wander into coach Phillip Fulmer’s office and stand near his chair, it’s downright toasty.
If you think Tommy Bowden is catching grief at Clemson, you ought to get a passport and visit Vol Nation. Fulmer has been on the bad side of fans for a while, but this season they’re ready for him to be gone — yesterday.
For the record, UT is currently 2-3 and coming off a scintillating 13-9 victory over Northern Illinois. The Vols are 0-2 in the SEC and show no signs of turning things around.
But here’s the deal — Fulmer has a contract that will take him through the 2014 season, one that pays roughly $2.5 million this year and will steadily rise each season. It also includes several performance bonuses.
That, by itself, is no real obstacle. You know as well as I do that a contract is worth little more than the ink and heavy stock paper it’s printed on.
But Fulmer has a $6 million buyout. That’s a lot of coin even for a school as wealthy as UT.
Thus, the bean counters in Knoxville find themselves in a quandary. Not only would they have to shell out millions to get rid of the current coach, they’d have to shell out at least $3 million more to bring in a “big name” to take over the program.
You’ve heard of keeping up with the Joneses? In the SEC you have to keep up with the Sabans, meaning a new guy would hardly come cheap — nor should he at a tradition-rich program like Tennessee.
Of course all this is pure speculation. Fulmer keeps telling folks that the Vols are on the verge of turning things around, and if they can somehow beat Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to go along with possible wins over Mississippi State and Wyoming, then they finish the regular season 9-3 and the fans would settle down a bit.
However, that ain’t gonna happen.
Right now UT is on track to lose at least five more games, which would result in a dead-last finish in the SEC East.