Friday, February 22, 2008

Fulmer vs. Adams

The Tennessee blogosphere is abuzz today about Coach Phillip Fulmer's response to this article by John Adams of the Knoxville News-Sentinal. In it, Adams calls for a head coaching change, his reason being:

Two years ago, USA Today did an in-depth story on the off-the-field problems of UT football players in 2005. But the same story would have been as relevant in the mid-1990s.

It would be just as relevant today.

Bottom line: UT has surpassed Miami as the poster team for bad behavior in college football. It's the college equivalent of the Cincinnati Bengals.

That's a stinging accusation, and I think reasonable people would have to say that there is some truth there. I do think the Miami and Cincinnati comparisons are somewhat hyperbolic, since we have not seen the Vols misbehaving on the field like those other two worthies. Still, college football can't be confined just to the field of play and I think the perception, right or wrong, is that Fulmer either places too much weight on what happens on the field or not enough on what happens off it. Either way, the effect is the same.

Adams goes on to cite a list of the most heinous crimes committed by UT players after they left the program. Now, no doubt that does tarnish Tennessee's reputation, but laying that at the feet of Fulmer is, quite frankly, absurd. Adams claims not to be doing that, but if so, why bring it up? Players from every walk of sport who were well-behaved during their college days sometimes become run afoul of the law after graduation -- OJ Simpson, anyone?

Adams continues with this:
When a football program is winning big, virtually everything is forgiven. This just in: UT isn't winning big. It hasn't won an SEC championship since 1998. It hasn't been to a BCS bowl since 1999, nor finished in the top 10 since 2001.
Say what? So this would all be forgiven by Mr. Adams if the team were coming home from a BCS championship instead of just a victory in the Outback Bowl? Seems like Adams is being hypocritical here -- first, his beef is with Fulmer sacrificing discipline on the altar of winning, now we find that it's really all about winning after all.

Coach Fulmer, rather than let that article sit out there unchallenged, responded with this interview at GoVolsExtra. Money graf:
At no time in my tenure has a player's football skill or athletic success been a factor in the way he was disciplined. Never. Our internal discipline is based on one factor alone: the course that is most likely to help that individual young man make amends and get his life straight. We make these decisions after much deliberation and with the input of administration, professional staff, counselors, and when necessary, law enforcement. This is not the easy way to mete out punishment. It requires judgment and leadership to keep the entire team focused and respectful of rules and basic morality, but it is the method that best serves the interest of our young men. In my 15 years, I've undoubtedly made some mistakes, but I try to do what I think is in the best interest for each young man.
OK, so there we have it. The two combatants staking out their claim to righteousness. But it seems to me, at least, that Fulmer gets the better of it, owing to the fact that Adams does not know the UT process, and is drawing conclusions only from the most egregious failures of it. Not only that, Adams fails to give Fulmer credit for a number of things, and given the coach's response, makes Adams look like a man with an axe to grind rather than a case to make. And what are we to make of Adams' suggestion that these discipline problems would be ignored if Tennessee were competing for BCS championships?

I guess the real question is, does Tennessee trust Fulmer's judgment on the matters for which he is responsible? I see no indication, other than fan restlessness for on-field results, that they do not. Adams is certainly within his rights to question Fulmer's results, even though he is, in Fulmer's words, "partially informed." But Fulmer shouldn't and didn't stand still for the suggestion that his discipline is purely based on winning and losing, and I think any coach in his position would take umbrage at that -- Adams draws that conclusion from thin air, and I don't blame Fulmer for being insulted.

Now for some Blogspheric reaction. Jon at Fulmer's Belly has a post up, in which he lowers his "hate rating" of John Adams because he fears it could be the end of him:
This is the type of controlled fury that emanates from the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers that people have come to know and love, and people at the wrong end of it, learned to fear. Not necessarily a fear of being outed to the public of being a no-good hack of a writer, but rather, mortal, bodily fear of possibly being eaten, and introduced first hand, to the namesake of this little website.

Therefore, the John Adams Hate-O-Meter will be rated somewhat lower due to sadness for John Adams’ future to be uncertain, whether or not he’ll continue working for the Knoxville News Sentinel, or Phillip Fulmer’s next meal.
Watch your back, Mr. Adams. Fulmer the Cannibal could be working up a recipe.

VolsToTheWall at Third Saturday In Blogtober also weighs in on the debate. He says that Fulmer was right to defend himself:
Coach Fulmer did the right thing in standing up for himself when Adams’ attacked his character. In fact, he probably should have been even harder on him. John Adams obviously has no respect for Phillip Fulmer, and after this article I have no respect for Adams. I’m happy to have Fulmer as our football coach. Sometimes he has probably been more lenient on some players than most would be, but I trust his judgment.
There is a partial answer to my earlier question about Fulmer's judgment -- I haven't done any polling, but my guess is that this is the majority opinion among Volunteer supporters.

Finally, I have to note that I was less than complimentary of Fulmer's discipline of Colquitt earlier this week, and I still think perhaps he should step back and get some peer input on his discipline process, just as a sanity check. But Fulmer's response to Adams leaves me somewhat chastened in this regard. It's easy to be a critic, but for a fact, we don't have all the information necessary to make informed judgments about the coach's performance in this type of situations. Fortunately, the University does (or should), and that is what matters most.