University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport and acting athletic director Phil Fulmer addressed the media on Friday afternoon after the suspension of John Currie as Tennessee’s AD.
Davenport didn’t look behind at what’s been a bad week for the Vols athletic department. She’s, instead, looking ahead with Fulmer at the helm.
“It has indeed been a difficult week,” she said. “It’s been a difficult road to get to where we are. This has not been an easy process for any of us. I regret deeply any hurt that has been caused. I have heard from so many of the Vol nation. I appreciate what they have to say. They love this University.”
Davenport and Fulmer consistently alluded to unity. That was their main message of the day.
With fan uproar preventing the hiring of Greg Schiano, the Tennessee fan base has already played a major role in this search. Davenport says she wants to embrace that support.
“(The fans) have been steadfast in reminding us what makes this University exceptional in athletics,” Davenport stated. “And it’s the people. I don’t take that for granted.”
Fulmer comes into the job amidst one of the toughest times in recent memory for Tennessee athletics.
But the former national championship winning coach isn’t deterred by the challenge. He’s just ready to get searching for a new coach.
“This kind of goes without saying in my opinion,” Fulmer began. “But I’m going to say it. The University of Tennessee is a fantastic institution with a fantastic athletic and academic history. All of our sports are the front doors to the University and our state, and we’re proud of them all. The success of our student athletes in all sports is a source of inspiration and unity.”
Unity was the word of the day. And in a tumultuous time for the University of Tennessee, Fulmer is just the unifying presence that Tennessee needs.
“I hope to be a stabilizing and unifying force because I do have some gray hair and experience at this place,” he said. “I just had a chance to visit with a bunch of wonderful people. I’ll meet with the football program in a little bit. Everybody wants to win championships here.”
Tennessee’s athletic department might be at its worst right now.
But Fulmer’s seen it at its best.
“I have been a part of this athletic administration at its best. I’ve seen what honest communication, trust and hard work achieves…turning around our athletic department will require teamwork.”
Chancellor Davenport didn’t have the full details of John Currie’s buyout as of Friday afternoon.
She said that the former Vols’ AD is currently “suspended with pay.”
When asked about the financial details, she declined to comment. And when asked about Tennessee’s interest in Washington State’s Mike Leach she deflected again.
“Early yesterday afternoon I asked John Currie to return to Knoxville before continuing with the search,” she said. “That had nothing to do with any specific coach…challenges require tough decisions. Today required one of those decisions.”
Currie is still being paid but Fulmer is the acting director of athletics, per a UT release.
Davenport didn’t give a timetable for his status moving forward.
“We are here today to begin a new era to move Tennessee forward. I asked Phillip to lead our athletic department for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Back to the Search
Tennessee still needs a football coach. And Fulmer will be the leader of that process.
“Our football program has the history, the facilities, the traditions and the resources to play with anyone, anytime. And that’s what we’re going to do again,” he said on Friday afternoon.
He gave a sales pitch to potential coaches in his first hour as UT’s AD. Even that comment was centered around fostering unity amongst Tennessee fans and administration.
“Our first job is to support our football program,” Fulmer said. “Through it all, we’ve been supported by the most passionate fan base in the country. Those fans deserve teams that make them proud. We first must find us a coach who wants to be at Tennessee…the kind of head coach who will represent our values.
Fulmer doesn’t have a schedule of when he hopes to announce a new head coach. He’s confident that people want the job. Based on his comments, interested candidates don’t appear to be a concern to him.
“I haven’t established a timetable because this has all happened so fast,” he said. “I think with the background that I’ve had and what we’ve done at different times here, the leadership that we’ve had here, there will definitely be people who are interested.”
Fulmer didn’t give any specific criteria for what he’s looking for in a coach. He also confirmed that he will not serve as an interim football coach.
However, he will be recruiting. Until the Vols have a head coach, Fulmer will be leading that effort.
“I’ve been charged to find the right coach for this circumstance,” Fulmer said when asked about how he will conduct the search. “I wasn’t a head coach when I started. More times than not we like experience. Recruiting wise, absolutely. It’s the backbone of what we do. We’ve got some really good commitments and there are guys out there who will be interested now who won’t be before.”