2. 2008: 5-7 (3-5)
Continuing with losing seasons that resulted in coaches losing their jobs, Phillip Fulmer had two in his final four years. However, 2005, while the greatest underachieving team in Tennessee football history, isn’t among the worst. Five of its six losses were to teams that finished with winning records, four were to top 25 teams, and it played four top 10 teams on the road.
That season, the first losing season since 1988, resulted in Fulmer bringing back David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator. In 2008, though, Cutcliffe became head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, where he remains to this day. That’s where Fulmer made his career killing mistake.
Fulmer brought in Richmond Spiders head coach Dave Clawson as his new offensive coordinator. Clawson is a solid offensive mind, but his system is complex and takes time to figure out. Players who had been familiar with Cutcliffe’s schemes weren’t going to be ready for it, particularly the new expected starting quarterback, Jonathan Crompton, who was replacing Erik Ainge.
Awful quarterback play led to the Vols losing a shocker in overtime to the UCLA Bruins in their opener. Two games later, they were blown out at home 30-6 by the eventual national champion Florida Gators. They then lost 14-12 to a horrendous Auburn Tigers team led by Tommy Tuberville, whose era was about to end as well.
Losses then mounted against the Georgia Bulldogs and in blowout fashion to the Alabama Crimson Tide and South Carolina Gamecocks, and switching from Crompton to Nick Stephens didn’t change anything. A historically bad offense that outmatched the historically bad 2005 offense was the clear issue.
After that USC loss, the news came out that Fulmer would be forced to step down at the end of the year. Amidst that distraction, the Vols suffered one of their worst losses in school history, a 13-7 embarrassment to the Wyoming Cowboys.
That and the UCLA loss put this team on the list, and finishing the year with wins over the Vanderbilt Commodores and Kentucky Wildcats did nothing to help that. This is one of the worst teams in UT history and ended one of the best eras.