Oath-keeper, curse breaker, man of great honor

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College football is a high stakes, cutthroat business. As ad revenues and coaching salaries have skyrocketed, loyalty has plummeted. A new generation of “mercenary coaches” now populates the ranks of college football. In this regard, college football is not unlike HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Alabama is certainly the House Lannister of college football. They’re better than your team. They know they’re better than your team. And they tell you as much every year when they defeat you on the (football) field of battle. Also like the Lannisters, they’re all inbred.

If Alabama is House Lannister, Tennessee is House Stark. The Volunteer football program was once as esteemed and prosperous as any in the nation. In the 90s and early 2000s, the football Vols were the cream of the crop, at one time boasting more active players on an NFL roster than any other school. Above even that, was the sense of family at Tennessee. Coach Phillip Fulmer was the last in a long line of “Tennessee guys” to lead the football program. Fulmer was fired in disgrace, his football family scattered to the four winds, and his domain is now inhabited by outsiders. When Mike Hamilton fired Phillip Fulmer, the program came under a curse of sorts. If you don’t believe it, examine the facts.

Tennessee has been subject to some of the most freakish and heartbreaking losses in college football since Fulmer’s dismissal in 2008. In 2009, under Fulmer’s replacement who shall remain nameless, the Volunteers lost to Alabama due to a last second blocked field goal from Terrance “Mount” Cody. It was his second blocked field goal of the game. Alabama went undefeated and won the national championship. Later that year, he who shall not be named left Tennessee at the midnight hour for sunny Los Angeles after only one season.

However, the football gods did not believe Tennessee had suffered enough to atone for its sins, so they sent Derek Dooley to finish the job. Under Dooley, recruiting would hit an all-time low, a twenty-six year winning streak against Kentucky would come to end at the hands of a team without a quarterback on the active roster, and the NCAA rule book would be changed to protect future teams from suffering the unfortunate fate of the 2010 Vols in the Music City Bowl.

The moment that perfectly defines the Dooley era occurred during the 2010 season at LSU. The Vols had rushed the field, bathed the coach in Gatorade and launched into a celebratory chorus of Rocky Top when the officials threw a flag halting the celebration. Long after the clock struck zero, the referees discovered the Vols had fielded an absurd thirteen men for the final play. The penalty was enforced, the play redone, and LSU scored to win, leaving Vols shocked and devastated.

In 2013, the Vols fumbled the ball out of the back of the opponents end zone in triple overtime, turning what would have been a game winning touchdown, into a game losing touch-back. In 2015, Butch Jones team blew not one, not two, but three halftime seventeen point leads, prohibiting them from winning the SEC east for the first time in eight years. In 2016, a freakish rash of injuries kept an extremely talented team from ever being a national competitor, despite victories over Florida and Georgia.

Meanwhile, other “Tennessee guys” have experienced extreme success abroad. National Champion Vol quarterback Tee Martin is currently the offensive coordinator for the Rose Bowl Champion USC Trojans. Former Vol coordinator John Chavis has competed for a national championship at LSU. Fulmer assistant Dan Brooks just helped lead the Clemson Tigers to a national championship. David Cutcliffe has turned perennial loser Duke into a consistent winner. Even internet sensation and Vol quarterback Jim Bob Cooter has risen through the NFL ranks to become the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.

Obviously, curses are not real. The Vols struggles are due to horrible mismanagement by outsiders whose stake in Tennessee’s success is strictly monetary. Two years ago, at the outset of a coaching search that yielded Jim Harbaugh, Michigan said they wanted a “Michigan Man” to lead their program. Its time for Tennessee to bow up and go get a “Tennessee guy” to lead ours. It is time to right the wrongs of the previous regime, and get Tennessee football back in the family. Coach Phillip Fulmer, centerpiece of the mythical curse, is the right man to lead Tennessee athletics out of the wilderness. Like House Stark, the Tennessee football family has been scattered to the four winds, and replaced with a bunch of bald guys from Michigan. Fulmer is the right guy, the “Tennessee guy” we need to break the curse.

 

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