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Monday, May 2, 2016

Jones: Fulmer's departure proves pressure of college ranks

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tennessee's Eric Berry (14) and the Commodores D.J. Moore chat at midfield before joining a group prayer at the conclusion of the game Saturday.
(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
NASHVILLE -- Vanderbilt lost 20-10 to the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday in the last appearance at Dudley Field for coach Phillip Fulmer. It was not exactly a dominating win, but it was still a fitting ending for the Winchester native.

His teams have dominated the series with the Commodores by winning 15 of 16 games against their intra-state rival and are 8-0 in Nashville during his tenure as head coach.

Fulmer's record now stands at 151-52 (.744) in 17 seasons with the Vols.

The fact that he is 99 games over .500 in that time span, yet still finds him out of a job after this season speaks volumes for the pressures that coaches face daily in Division I programs, especially in a state where football and Elvis are still kings.

Fulmer's imminent departure is a foregone conclusion but there were two other stalwart players that those of us that were in attendance or watched the game on television reminded us of why coaches love the game so much despite fickle fans and short fused administrators.

Tennessee's Eric Berry and the Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore are arguably the two best defensive backs in the nation. Both will in all likelihood be high first round draft picks in the NFL draft when eligible.

Moore, a junior, started at cornerback and wide receiver for the first time in his collegiate career against the Vols and finished the game with eight tackles (two for loss) and caught two balls for 32 yards.

Eric Berry races to the end zone during a 45-yard interception return.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
For good measure, he also returned two kickoffs for 43 yards. Moore has showcased his versatility this season by becoming the only SEC player in the nation to play five positions (cornerback, quarterback, receiver, punt returner and kick returner).

As good as Moore was, Berry was better on this day. The sophomore from Fairburn, Ga., intercepted a Chris Nickson pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was his 12th career interception and the third interception return for a touchdown of his career.

He now has seven interceptions this season and 265 return yards. The 265 return yards is an SEC record. The NCAA record is 302 yards and was set by Terrell Buckley in 1974.

Like his counterpart, Berry also lined up on offense. He entered the game for Tennessee's second series and ran for a first down on his first touch from the quarterback position.

He not only excels on the field but in the classroom as well, earning freshman All-Academic honors last year.

Scouts must be salivating at the prospect of these two young men becoming eligible to play on Sundays.

Players like Berry and Moore are not only great athletes but are influential ambassadors for their program.

Coaches do not get enough credit for recruiting and nurturing these young people from wide eyed teenagers into productive and polished young men ready for the next level of challenges whether it is on the field or in the realm of everyday life.

D.J. Moore looks for room to operate after pulling in one of his two receptions.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
Sure, Fulmer has had some problem players in recent years that have placed his beloved program in a bad light, but the positives far and away outweigh the negatives over the years. He has been the epitome of loyalty not only to his school but to his assistant coaches, who have in most every instance enjoyed longevity and the security that goes with it in their jobs.

In thinking back, I do not recall him ever allowing his name to be linked to any other job.

Though I must readily admit that I have been a vocal critic this season, I do feel that there are no winners in this situation. It is a lose-lose situation for both parties.

He was, in effect, a victim of his own success. The Volunteers that we have seen in two of the last four years just simply didn't measure up to the standards of excellence that he had been so instrumental in setting during his tenure.

It is too bad that a guy that loyal and who has contributed so much couldn't have left on his own terms.

One of his former players may have said it best upon hearing the news of the changing of the guard.

"This is a sad day for the Tennessee family," Indianapolis Colts quarterback and former Tennessee standout Peyton Manning said. "His legacy at Tennessee will be that he built men and won championships.

"He will always be my coach."

It seems that Fulmer has left behind far more than can be measured in wins and losses. Doesn't it?

Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at jjones@t-g.com.

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