4. 2008: 5-7 (3-5)
The 1976 season ended one era for Tennessee football and ushered in a new one in 1977. But this season, the 2008 season, ended that era, which was a 32-year run spanning two head coaches and including five SEC Championships and a national championship.
What Johnny Majors built, Phillip Fulmer took to the next level. Then it collapsed under him, and this was the final straw. The Vols were coming off a 10-4 season and SEC East Championship. But they stumbled to a 5-7 record with close road losses to the UCLA Bruins and Auburn Tigers and an embarrassing 13-7 homecoming loss to the Wyoming Cowboys the week Fulmer was fired.
On top of that, they were blown out by the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide and South Carolina Gamecocks. But what’s inexcusable is how that happened given the talent on this team.
Robert Ayers, a future first-round draft pick the next summer, was a senior on defense, and Arian Foster, a future two-time leading rusher in the NFL, was a running back. Foster’s backup was Montario Hardesty, another NFL Draft pick. Jonathan Crompton, a future draft pick, started the year at quarterback. Future Pittsburgh Steelers leader Ramon Foster was on the offensive line.
Other future NFL players included Dan Williams, Jacques McClendon, Chris Scott, Denarius Moore and Luke Stocker. Then there was Eric Berry, a future NFL superstar, the best defender in college that year and the guy who should have won the Thorpe Award.
So what happened? Well, Dave Clawson happened. Clawson is a great coach, but his schemes take two to three years to pick up, and the offense wasn’t equipped to handle it after years under David Cutcliffe. So things were horrible offensively, and it resulted in a disastrous season. If Fulmer kept continuity there, UT likely goes 8-4 or 9-3 with this talent. But the change dropped them to 5-7.