Remember when Tennessee was one of the powerhouses of the SEC? If you don’t, that’s because it’s been a good while.
Under former UT head coach Phillip Fulmer, the Volunteers enjoyed consistent success, highlighted by a national championship in 1998. That was followed up with six seasons featuring nine or more wins.
The Vols went 5-7 in 2008, Fulmer’s last season in Knoxville. Less than a month after that, Lane Kiffin was hired, fresh off being fired by the Raiders. Since then:
- Kiffin left in the middle of the night,
- the miserable Derek Dooley era began,
- former players went on record calling Dooley "a loser,"
- rival Alabama reached full power,
- Kiffin has mercilessly trolled the Vols since he left,
- UT endured seven straight unranked finishes,
- Tennessee has lost to Vanderbilt three times in the last five seasons,
- the Vols produced zero draft picks for two years,
- Will Muschamp has gone 5-0 against the Vols,
- and all UT has been able to claim since Fulmer left has been Butch Jones’ Champions of Life belt.
From 1997-2007, the Vols had a winning percentage of 74 percent.
From 2008-2016, that number was 51.3 percent.
Lane Kiffin and Bobby Petrino have a ton in common as prominent college football figures.
- They’ve been head coaches at three schools each.
- Both were big names as assistants, and Kiffin became famous as an assistant again for the last three years at Alabama.
- Kiffin and Petrino can recruit and coach college offenses at a high level. In 2016, Kiffin was guiding Alabama’s offense to its highest heights in years, and Petrino’s first true dual-threat QB, Lamar Jackson, won the Heisman.
- Petrino’s been involved in so many shenanigans that we had to assemble a 15-year timeline of them, and Kiffin has left four consecutive jobs in acrimonious fashion.
They have one other thing in common: these college football lifers both missed the weirdest season in college history because they were NFL head coaches at the time. And for not much total time otherwise.
But the season before Fulmer’s last, the Vols made it to the SEC Championship.
All that was standing in the way of a trip to Atlanta was a game against Kentucky. The Wildcats were tied with Tennessee in the East, and a win in Lexington would clinch the division for the Vols. Tennessee survived a dogfight, pulling out a 52-50 win in quadruple overtime.
Next up was the No. 7 LSU Tigers, who’d lost a classic to Arkansas on Black Friday to fall from the No. 1 spot. The Tigers were favored by seven points.
After an up-and-down UT season, along with calls for Fulmer to get fired, the opportunity to beat LSU and win the SEC was a bright spot.
The game was a pretty entertaining one, and it looked like Tennessee could pull it off. The Vols went to the locker room with a 7-6 lead. The Tigers scored a touchdown early in the third, but Tennessee responded.
But pretty early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee’s Erik Ainge was intercepted by LSU’s aggressive Jonathan Zenon, who returned it for a touchdown. The score sealed a Tigers victory, and LSU went on to win the BCS title. Tennessee only turned the ball over once all day, which was once too many.
That means in this GIF, when the clock’s at 9:59 in the fourth quarter of the 2007 SEC Championship, you’re looking at the most recent true peak of Tennessee football.
At 9:58, it all starts going downhill.
After beating Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, Tennessee finished No. 12, which is 10 or more spots better than every season since. It’s no wonder UT recently brought back Fulmer as a university adviser.