Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer and I had a similar celebration on Father's Day this past weekend. We spent a good portion of the day watching our grandsons play baseball. I ran into Coach Fulmer for just a few minutes on Sunday afternoon. He was watching his ten year old grandson play in the 11 and under division of a big state tournament in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, while I was there to see my nine year old grandson and his 9 and under Fury squad wrap up the 10 and under state title.
It was really good to see him. He looked relaxed and happy; much more so than he was a few years ago.
I was ecstatic when he was named Tennessee's new athletic director in late 2017 but not nearly as much as he was when he got the job. He had been wrongly put out to pasture in 2008; a move that sent the Vols' football program in a downward spiral they have still not recovered from. When Tennessee needed him the most, he was there to stop the bleeding. The Vols and their fan base had become the laughing stock of college football as former athletic director John Currie botched the search for a new head football coach when Butch Jones was fired. Fulmer came to the rescue as he did in 1992 when he filled in for Johnny Majors while Majors recuperated from open heart surgery.
Fulmer did such an admirable job that when Majors was dismissed at the end of the 1992 season, Fulmer was named the replacement as head football coach. He stepped up in his own quiet way to right the ship and eventually bring the Vols to unprecedented success on the gridiron. Now that he is athletic director, he's doing the same thing. He is calming the storm. The Vols are no longer a laughing stock in college sports. His great hire of former Lady Vol Kellie Jolly Harper as the new women's basketball coach appears to be a home run and so does the hiring of football coach Jeremy Pruitt.
He used to be an assistant coach with his son-in-law Robert Peace on his grandson's baseball team but since taking over as the Vols' AD he surrendered that position. That doesn't mean however he doesn't go to the games. He does, which is one of several things we have in common. If our grandsons are on the ball field we're there.
Retirement really wasn't an ideal situation for Phillip Fulmer. Being told at the age of 59 that you were no longer needed as Tennessee's head football coach forced retirement on him. Oh he stayed active, doing this and doing that but it wasn't doing what he loved. Now at the age of 68 he is in charge once again at the place he loves; a place where he has spent most of his life in service. Good to see you Coach. See you on the ball field!
* * *
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com