Phillip Fulmer outlines vision for Tennessee Vols as athletic director
The job title remains relatively new to Phillip Fulmer, but he’s found that the job itself feels familiar.
“It’s like coaching,” Tennessee’s athletic director said during an interview with USA TODAY Network – Tennessee on March 1, which marked his three-month anniversary on the job.
And, like coaching, Fulmer enjoys the work.
“If you had my job and you were able to be around our staff and particularly these young people, it’s fun,” Fulmer said. “It’s really a lot of fun. You have your challenges that are obviously the public things that come up from time to time, but I’ve got a great job.”
How long will he be AD?
Fulmer, 67, inherited a mess when, on Dec. 1, Tennessee ousted John Currie and anointed Fulmer.
Currie’s attempt to hire a football coach after he elected not to use a search firm imploded in the weeks after he fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12.
A deal with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano unraveled after news of the impending hire leaked and was met with a wave of backlash. Then a series of candidates turned away overtures from the Vols.
UCLA hired Chip Kelly.
Florida hired Dan Mullen.
Currie got booted.
But this wasn't a case of a former coach riding in on a white horse to do his alma mater a quick favor.
Fulmer has the job he wanted but was passed over for.
Tennessee hired Currie in February 2017 over a candidate field that included Fulmer and former UT administrator David Blackburn, who was then Chattanooga’s AD.
So, how long does Fulmer intend to stay in charge?
“I want to do it long enough that I’m here to be sure that I’m supporting the people that I’ve brought here and do the job that I’ve been asked to do,” said Fulmer, who is working without a contract as UT seeks a full separation from Currie, who is suspended with pay.
“I don’t want to put a number on it at all. I don’t think it’s fair yet, but long enough to do the job well and get a foundation here that I remember when I was here.”
Fulmer’s vision for the department
Fulmer has laid out four pillars for his athletic department: Communication, trust, warmth and intensity.
“Warmth is one of those things that we’ve been missing because everybody has been siloed here from different times because of the turmoil,” Fulmer said. “And warmth means that I care about you, you care about me, we all care about the student-athletes. We care about the university and the state and so on. We’re working toward that.”
Fulmer believes stability is the top need within the department.
Much of Fulmer’s coaching career came with Doug Dickey as his boss. Dickey was Tennessee’s AD from 1985-2003. Tennessee had two football coaches during Dickey’s 18-year rein: Johnny Majors and Fulmer.
Fulmer is Tennessee’s fourth AD in the 15 years since Dickey retired. Pruitt became the Vols’ fifth football coach during that 15-year span.
After Tennessee hired Currie, he tapped Reid Sigmon to be his second-in-command as executive associate AD. Kurt Gulbrand and Janeen Lalik came aboard as senior associate ADs for development and strategic initiative, respectively. The other members of the senior AD staff are holdovers from past administrations.
Fulmer said he’s not planning a major shakeup but that he wants to establish a different intensity.
“If you can’t be a part of the solution, that means you’re really part of the problem,” he said. “That’s what we’re in a stage of right now. Do I expect a bunch of changes? No. Do I expect people to get in tune with what we’re trying to accomplish? Absolutely. So, to your question, it kind of remains to be seen (whether he'll make changes in the support staff). I don’t have a distrust of anybody here, but everybody is learning to trust each other.”
If Fulmer had to sum up his first three months in a single word?
“Rejuvenating,” he said.
“I love this university and particularly want to see us get back to where we all want to be,” Fulmer added. “That’s my No. 1 priority.”