Tennessee AD Fires First Warning Shot Across Phil Fulmer's Bow

The heat under Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer's derriere has never been hotter. The Vols, winless in conference play and only 2-4 overall, host Mississippi State in an absolute must-win matchup this weekend in Knoxville.

Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton, quiet until now on the subject of Tennessee's second disastrous season in the last four years, finally hinted at some upcoming 'policy'.

"Our traditional model at the University of Tennessee is that we evaluate these kinds of things on a year-end basis," said Hamilton in an exclusive interview with the News Sentinel on Tuesday and his first public comments in weeks on the subject. "That doesn't preclude you from doing something different.

The Vols have six games remaining. And even though it's mid-October, Hamilton said he's heard from concerned boosters and realizes that losing donations may soon become a possibility if the Vols don't improve.

"That's always a risk, particularly in a year with economic situations being as they are," Hamilton said.

Keep in mind that Hamilton has been largely in support of his head football coach until now. He gave Fulmer a raise and contract extension in 2007 after winning the SEC East and has been loathe to criticize the SEC's Dean of Coaches. Hamilton's words seem to have the kind of careful timing that good politicians use to stage their next move. More:

Hamilton confirmed that some boosters have discussed Fulmer's possible replacement, but said those conversations have been limited.

More than just a .500 record, Fulmer is also fighting off apathy from UT's fan base.

"You don't want apathy," Hamilton said. "Apathy is a program killer."

And finally, it looks like Hamilton suggested a bare minimum record of performance for Phil Fulmer.

Hamilton declined to put a win-loss record on what it would take to make a coaching change. Instead, Hamilton said he was looking for a program that showed signs of heading in the right direction.

When pressed on the issue, particularly a 6-6 record, Hamilton said tersely, "Our goals are not to be a .500 ball club."

Croomings have been a rare sighting this season, but we might see one in Knoxville if Sly Croom's Bulldogs can pull off the (marginal) upset.

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