When the University of Tennessee needed him most, Phillip Fulmer was there. When the Volunteers became the laughing stock of college football as they attempted to hire a new head football coach, Fulmer stepped in and righted the ship. It would have been really easy for a lesser man to have told the university to stick it where the sun doesn't shine but he didn't. After all, Fulmer was fired as head football coach just ten years following a national championship and just one year after the Vols had played in the SEC Championship Game. It didn't matter that he had been a part of the program as a player, assistant coach, offensive coordinator and head coach for parts of five decades. He was tossed out the door with the bath water by then athletic director Mike Hamilton; a move that started the Tennessee football program in a downward spiral that culminated in the worst season in school history last fall.
Less than one month ago, Fulmer was awarded a contract extension through 2021.
It's a deal that could pay him close to a million dollars a year when you add in all the incentives. While Coach Fulmer is determined to bring back success to every sport at Tennessee, there is no question that the football program is his first priority and rightly so. At every school in the country, it's football that drives the economic bus. That's especially true at Tennessee. When you can draw 100,000 fans per contest it makes every game day a multi-million dollar event. When you add in the television money at stake with the SEC's numerous TV deals ,it emphasizes the importance of college football.
Phillip Fulmer hit the ground running from day one as athletic director. He has spoken with several other coaches and athletic directors about upgrading facilities among other things. It's hard to believe but Tennessee is lagging behind in several sports in terms of facilities. There is a major upgrade coming at historic Neyland Stadium and it's coming less than a decade after a multi-million dollar face lift was completed at Neyland. Fulmer knows as well as anyone what it takes to win at the highest level, yet he also knows that using his many friends as resources is a valuable commodity to have.
This time last year Coach Fulmer was reeling a bit after he was passed over as the Vols' athletic director by John Currie, but when Currie proved that he was totally inept at hiring a college football coach, Fulmer was there, waiting to rescue his alma mater when he was needed. When Tennessee needed stability Fulmer was there to deliver it. The hiring of former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as head football coach was a stabilizing move of course but it was a move that has brought the Vol Nation together. While there is a lot of excitement in Big Orange country right now, Fulmer has warned the Vol faithful to be patient. This is not going to be a quick fix like it was at Georgia with Kirby Smart. It will take time. In other words, it will take Coach Pruitt a couple of great recruiting years to get the Vols' talent level up. But one thing Vol fans can certainly count on is this-with Phillip Fulmer calling the shots at Tennessee, the Volunteers have a stable leader with the university's best interests at heart. Phillip Fulmer is right where he needs to be.
Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org