By Steve Williams
New UT head coaches and athletic directors always wear an orange tie at their introductory press conference.
So did Phillip Fulmer when he was introduced Friday afternoon as Tennessee’s new AD. But he didn’t have to rush out and buy one.
Phil’s ties to the university actually go back to the late 1960s when he toiled in the trenches as an offensive lineman for the Vols.
Fulmer’s respect for his alma mater also is unquestioned. If you want proof, just go on YouTube and watch his emotional press conference with his wife Vicky at his side, after he was forced to step down as head football coach in 2008.
Vicky this time was visiting her brother in another state when the press conference was hastily scheduled about an hour after John Currie had been suspended from his AD duties.
Two of Fulmer’s daughters and two grandkids were on hand for the announcement. That alone should tell you Phillip is a family man. And UT is a big part of his family. He really never left her.
Many in Tennessee’s great fan base are happy Fulmer, 67, is now the AD and leading the search for a new head football coach. But those fans under the age of 30 probably don’t remember the Vols’ great run through the 1990s and the national championship season of 1998 under Fulmer.
And kids out there, say 15 and under, only know of the trying times the Tennessee football program has been going through.
Younger fans will soon see the personality Fulmer has and the qualities he possesses as a leader. Even Catholic High’s Cade Mays, the nation’s No. 2 rated offensive lineman who recently decommitted from UT, may get a call from the old offensive line coach.
At this time of the year, Fulmer probably would make a great Santa Claus. He has the physical qualities (no offense Phil), but more importantly, a butter melting charm that would make scared and crying 3-year olds relax enough to sit on his knee and tell him what they want for Christmas, and then probably kiss him good-bye.
Fulmer, a candidate for the AD post when Currie was hired last spring, won over UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport over the last nine months. She became impressed with his experience in major college athletics and really appreciated how respectful he was to her.
After a week of errors and strikeouts in the coaching search under Currie, Davenport felt it was time for new leadership and hit a home run when she brought Fulmer off the bench and up to the plate.
Fulmer, who was named special adviser to UT president Joe DiPetro for community, athletics and university relations in June, said he will try to find the right guy – and not necessarily a Tennessee guy – for the UT football job.
But there’s no question he will reach out to former Volunteers who are qualified, with current Duke Coach David Cutcliffe and Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin at the top of that list. Another former UT quarterback and longtime OC, Randy Sanders, may even be a candidate. Peyton Manning could be too, if he wanted.
In Currie’s coaching search, there was speculation and conflicting reports that super booster Jimmy Haslam may have been behind Currie offering Greg Schiano the UT job, which resulted in an unprecedented protest from Tennessee’s passionate fan base and Currie taking back the offer.
The Haslam family has been very generous and good to UT and the local community for years, and hopefully will continue to be.
But I can’t imagine Fulmer ever being a puppet in his new role. He may respectfully listen to suggestions from prominent boosters and common fans as well, but he will do what he feels is best for the university and its athletics program.