Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
As Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer continues to try and fight his way out of the deepest hole of his coaching career, the calls for his job among fans are mounting.
Fulmer, in his 16th full season as Tennessee's head coach, has proved time and time again that he's as resilient as they get. I wouldn't count him out this time, either.
That said, I think he has to find a way to finish 7-5 or better to have a chance to come back. If he's 6-6 or worse, I don't see many scenarios where he would return. That would be two nonwinning seasons for him in the last four years, and no coach at Tennessee would be able to survive that.
The Vols are off to their first 1-3 start since 1994. They rebounded to finish 8-4 that season.
One of the biggest questions I've gotten from Tennessee fans is what the university would owe Fulmer if he were to be fired following this season.
According to details from his latest contract obtained by ESPN.com, his total buyout effective Jan. 1, 2009, would be a whopping $6 million. That money would not be payable in one lump sum. Rather, it would be spread out over 48 months in equal installments.
The total buyout for Fulmer's coaching staff would be an additional $3.55 million, although that figure could be significantly reduced if those coaches obtain other coaching jobs.
So, in other words, making a coaching change this year could cost Tennessee, in a worst-case scenario, nearly $10 million.
Fulmer signed his new contract this past August, which included an extension through 2014 and a raise that pays him an average of $2.99 million over the life of the contract. He's making $2.4 million this season. There are built-in escalators each year, as well as a clause that says the contract will be rolled over each year if he wins at least eight regular-season games.
The new contract increased Fulmer's buyout. Had the university fired him following last season, he would have been owed somewhere in the $4.3 million range.
But once the Vols recovered from a dismal start to make it to the SEC championship game, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton wanted to show support for Fulmer. So he worked out a new seven-year deal with Fulmer's agent, Jimmy Sexton, that included a raise and more years on the contract, which subsequently increased the buyout.
Fulmer has won 95 SEC games during what's certain to be a Hall of Fame career and ranks sixth all-time behind only Bear Bryant (159), John Vaught (106), Vince Dooley (105) and Steve Spurrier and Ralph "Shug" Jordan (98).
But here is what's killing Fulmer right now: In his last 28 games against SEC opponents -- dating back to the 2004 SEC championship game loss to Auburn -- he's just 14-14. And this decade, he's just 13-22 against the SEC's marquee teams -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU.