Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Only in the Southeastern Conference can you fire your football coach one week and then three weeks later honor him for his contributions to that same school for that same sport he played and has coached for the last 30 plus years.
With that being said, let me set the emotional state of Vol Nation at the present time for you and share some of the dramatic arrivals and departures of past Vol coaches I've experienced over the last 40 years following UK and SEC football:
Scene #1 - It was March 5th of 1977 and a Joe B. Hall led UK team was in town to play a Ray Mears led UT hoops team. Both coaches had one of their better teams, UK was ranked #2 and UT was ranked #11 and the drama was already at fever pitch in Knoxville with Big Blue in town (Ray Mears' favorite team to hate and beat), but this time Mears approved a real stunner at the request of the Vol athletic director. Normally when UT starters were announced at then Stokely Athletic Center, there would be a large orange "T" made out of wood at the endline adjacent to the Vols locker room and as each starter was introduced he would literally run out of the locker room, through the orange "T", and onto the floor with fans at fever pitch. Only this night, when the lights were dimmed and a spot light was put on the large orange wooden "T", the P.A. man simply said "Vol Nation would you please stand as we introduce a special guest for tonight's game and welcome home the greatest Vol ever." That's when the wooden "T" popped open and the spotlight hit one Johnny Majors as he walked through it and onto the floor with the UT band playing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Majors was hired in early January that winter but, according to UT athleic department officials, that was the first opportunity they had to officially introduce him to the fans, yeah right. Bottom line was the Calvary had arrived folks, and UK was in trouble. UK lost that evening 81-79 and it cost them an outright SEC championship and a host spot in the Mideast Region at Rupp Arena that year.
Scene #2 - It was November 21, 1981 and Fran Curci had pretty much been given his walking papers by the UK athletic department officials. Curci was 2-8 entering the game against a 7-3 Vol team led by Johnny Majors. According to longtime sources involved with UK football, when Curci and Majors met at mid-field before the game to shake hands, Curci simply walked up to Majors stuck his hand out and said, "I don't know how we're going to do it but I will beat you today." Final score was UK-21/UT-10. Curci left the field that day on his players shoulders waving good bye to the UK fans wearing a black fur coat and hat. Fran Curci beat UT three times in his last six years at UK and two of the other three years he lost by scores of 20-17 and 29-24. Since Jerry Claiborne took over in 1982, the Cats have been through five coaching regimes and UK has beaten UT only once 17-12 in 1984. UK is presently on a 23 year streak of losing to the Vols in what is normally the season ending game for both teams.
Scene #3 - It was November 21, 1992 and Johnny Majors had been forced out as head football coach two weeks earlier. Some say because of health reasons and some Vol insiders say he wasn't keeping the Vols in the upper echelon of college football circles. Majors' last four years recorded at Rocky Top were 1989 = 11-1 Cotton Bowl; 1990 = 9-2-1 Sugar Bowl; 1991 = 9 - 3 Fiesta Bowl; 1992 9-3 Hall of Fame Bowl (Fulmer took over as interim coach for the last three games in 1992). When the Vols played their last game that year at Neyland Stadium, an already ousted Johnny Majors was the only individual allowed to walk through the "T" that day onto the field and again to the band playing
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home." It is the only time in recorded memory of UT athletics that the seniors weren't allowed to run through the "T" alone on Senior Day. UT won that particular game 34-13 although Phil Fulmer is credited with the win in UT and SEC media guides. According to many longtime Vol football followers, Phil Fulmer himself knifed Majors in the back feeding info to UT athletic department officials to get his job.
Scene #4 - Will be this coming Saturday, November 29th and it will be the Vols' last game of 2008 and the Phil Fulmer era. The Vols are headed toward another losing season with no post season play which will be the second time in the last four years.
If you're attending the game this coming Saturday, expect to witness another very emotional scene at the games outset and probably when Tennessee makes it's traditional "T" for the team to run through and onto the field.
Rich Brooks and his Wildcats need a win against Fulmer in his last game as the Vols skipper to have a chance at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and celebrating New Year's Eve in Catlanta and still may need a little help from anyone playing against Ole Miss and Vandy. But a 24th straight loss to the Vols and Big Blue Nation will be celebrating the holidays at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
With all the above mentioned scenarios in the historical archives of both schools and UK being on their third quarterback for the year (remember Curtis Pulley) and having lost their best running back and wide receiver several weeks ago along with two key defensive players last week against Vandy and the game being at Rocky Top.
Well, it hurts to say this, folks.
Let's just say my old buddy at the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mark Story, should be able to continue to talk about "The Streak" for another year after Saturday. I'm thinking Phil Fulmer will probably tell Rich Brooks in the pre-game, "I don't know how I will do it but I will keep the losing streak intact today."