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UT Has An Opportunity To End A 20-Year Feud

For the past 20 years, the University of Tennessee athletic department and fanbase have been doing an awful lot of infighting.  Instead of the Hatfields and the McCoys, the folks in the Volunteer State aligned and battled like the Fulmers and the Majors.

For you “Twilight” tweeners out there, it’s been “Team Phillip” versus “Team Johnny” in Big Orange Country.

When Majors was forced out as UT’s football coach in 1992 and replaced by his offensive coordinator, Fulmer, the Vol fanbase suffered a massive split.  Those loyal to Majors who felt he was backstabbed or simply forced out unceremoniously never forgave the man who replaced him.

Fulmer backers said that their guys rescued the program from Majors.  The successes under Majors were thanks to Fulmer’s work in the background.  The failures of the Majors era, well, those were all Johnny’s fault.

But when Fulmer’s program collapsed in the late 2000s and he was ousted, Majors suddenly had an in with the UT program again.  Lane Kiffin — who threw barbs in the direction of Fulmer regarding the talent level he’d left behind — welcomed Majors into the fold with open arms.  Naturally, “Team Johnny” liked Kiffin while many a member of “Team Phillip” were irked by the young upstart.

When Kiffin left, yet another rift occurred.  Wisely, Derek Dooley reached out to both Majors and Fulmer when he arrived in Knoxville, bringing both groups into his camp as though the King of England had just married his son to the daughter of a French king.

Still “Team Johnny” hates Fulmer and “Team Phillip” hates Majors.

With Mike Hamilton now exiting as the Vols’ athletic director, there’s a push among the Fulmerites to return their guy to power in Hamilton’s old office.  But from a fanbase perspective, that would likely be the worst move possible for Tennessee. 

Fulmer could do the job.  Don’t think he couldn’t.  While ADs are rarely ex-coaches these days, Tom Osborne has done well at Nebraska.  With the right accountants and marketers around him, Fulmer could succeed as Tennessee’s athletic director.

But the University of Tennessee finally has a chance to heal a gaping maw of a 20-year-old, infected wound.  For the first time in decades, the UT administration could be free of “Team Johnny,” “Team Phillip” and all the ridiculous petty bickering that those factions bring with them.

An outsider could reach out to both parties.  Heck, someone with Tennessee ties — but not tight ties to Majors or Fulmer — could do likewise.

If Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek wants to heal the fanbase as Hamilton suggested yesterday, then the first step is to disappoint the Fulmer backers and not pursue the ex-Vol coach.  Then maybe Cheek can win them — and the Majors backers — back into the fold with the inspired hiring of someone who isn’t stained with the blood and stink of Tennessee’s” 20 Years War.”

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