Phillip Fulmer should be gone from Tennessee Vols for good | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Now that Tennessee has fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt, let’s turn our attention to the man who made the Jeremy Pruitt era possible: Phillip Fulmer.

Fulmer will retire as Tennessee’s athletics director after UT hires an AD to replace him. His own hiring is worth revisiting.

He was hired as athletics director in December of 2017 under the strangest of circumstances. Then-athletic director John Currie was in the process of hiring a coach to replace Butch Jones, and the process wasn’t going well.

Then-chancellor Beverly Davenport became concerned about Currie’s competence. My guess is Fulmer quickly raised her concerns.

He was within striking distance thanks to the work of another failed UT administrator, then-university president Joe DiPietro, who had created a job of special adviser to the president for Fulmer.

Fulmer had a history with Currie, who was an assistant to AD Mike Hamilton when Fulmer was fired as football coach in 2008. In February of 2017, Currie beat out Fulmer for the athletics director job. But his victory was only temporary.

I’m sure if Currie had it to do over, he would have had a clause in his contract that read: “Phillip Fulmer will never be allowed on campus while I’m athletics director.”

However, Currie apparently was only interested in improving the program’s facilities and coaching staffs. And no one had his back.

He was easy pickings for someone with Fulmer’s skill set.

Davenport took it from there, firing Currie and hiring Fulmer. Three years later, we know the severity of her mistake.

Although unqualified for the AD job, Fulmer's hiring seemed to satisfy an urge Tennessee has had for many years. The urge? To give Fulmer money.

His biggest payday was a $6 million buyout when he was fired as football coach. DiPietro later put him back on the payroll, and Davenport upped his salary when she promoted him to AD,  

Fulmer was first introduced as “acting athletic director.” The “acting” part of his title quickly vanished.

“Our first job is to turn around our football program,” Fulmer declared in his new role.

Six days later, he hired his coach, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

But as you noticed, Fulmer and Pruitt didn’t turn around the program. Instead, they drove it into deeper trouble. Not only did Pruitt lose 19 of 35 games in three seasons, he and his staff allegedly committed serious NCAA violations, as revealed by a UT internal investigation.

Fulmer wasn’t linked to NCAA violations. Other than that, you could say he was as bad at his job as Pruitt was at his.

I'm sure UT athletic staff members could tell horror stories about Fulmer's administrative shortcomings. He couldn’t even act like an AD, and was more interested in masquerading as a football coach on the practice field than running the athletic department.

Nonetheless, he paid enough attention to fiscal issues to negotiate a raise and contract extension for himself. Now, UT likely will give him more money as he departs.

I assume his goodbye package will include a coaching jacket, wide-brimmed hat, and a whistle. But it shouldn’t include a practice-field pass.

He has done enough damage and taken enough of UT's money. He no longer should be allowed anywhere near the football program.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.