I recently commended Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer for voluntarily requesting a 15 percent salary reduction because of the financial challenges facing the university during the coronavirus pandemic.
Surprisingly, some of my astute readers weren’t impressed by Fulmer’s generosity.
Jerry wrote: “A true leader would cut his salary by 50%. Or even 75%, since the stadium is only going to be 25% full. Since becoming AD, I would say that Fulmer has spent money like a drunken sailor, but that would be an insult to both drunks and sailors.”
That’s rather harsh, but I will never discourage freedom of speech in this column.
Another reader was irked that Fulmer would take only a 15 percent pay cut when UT’s overall operating budget was being cut by 20 percent.
Jack wrote: “Of course, we know Fulmer is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Someone at or near the top at UT, however, should point out (the difference between 15 and 20 percent) to Fulmer in no uncertain terms — but that probably will not happen.”
While I appreciate all contributions to this column, I couldn’t disagree more with Jack’s assessment of Fulmer’s degree of dullness.
He was fired as Tennessee football coach at the end of the 2008 season. But from the low point of his career, he worked his way back onto the university payroll as a special adviser to the UT president and later became the head of the same athletic department that fired him.
His comeback ranks as one of the great success stories in the history of college athletics.
Nonetheless, not all readers regard him as a hero for requesting a 15 percent pay cut.
Betty wrote: “Is this 15% pay cut that Fulmer is requesting for himself, 15% of one million (his total pay) or 15% of his base salary of $300,000? I bet it’s the latter. And that’s a big difference.”
John was just as skeptical.
He wrote: “Can you confirm if the pay cut is for all of his pay or just his salary? There is a big difference.”
Surely, Fulmer wouldn’t make a big deal of requesting a pay cut if it were only for his base salary. That would be terribly misleading, especially since he’s asking for fans to make donations to the program during these troubling times.
After all, 15 percent of $300,000 would be just $45,000. And since the reduction has yet to go into effect, it wouldn’t even be for a full fiscal year. That could amount to less than $40,000 for a year in which UT stands to lose millions of dollars.
There’s another side to this, though.
No matter how much money someone makes, it’s his prerogative to spend that money as he chooses. He’s not obligated to reduce his salary to help his employer.
Also, keep in mind that if Fulmer is so concerned over UT’s financial plight, he might request an additional reduction in pay if the situation should worsen.
And I doubt that all fans will quibble over the details: “Was it 15 percent of $1 million or $300,000?”
Instead, they’re probably just grateful that amid a financial crisis the leader of Tennessee’s athletic department offered to make a sacrifice for the benefit of his university.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.