After the debacle that was Tennessee’s head coaching search, specifically the events around the potential hiring of Greg Schiano, Vol fans were clamoring for someone with Tennessee ties to come coach the Vols. Some fans wanted former head coach Phillip Fulmer to return and provide some stability for a season or two.
And apparently, Fulmer would’ve done just that if he had been asked.
According to texts obtained in an open records request, Fulmer was asked if he would step in to coach the Vols and expressed interest in doing so.
Texts messages from John “Thunder” Thornton, a Chattanooga businessman and prominent UT donor, to UT President Joe DiPietro were obtained. And on November 26th, the day of Schiano Sunday, Thornton said Fulmer would come back to coach Tennessee.
“Joe, yesterday morning I had a long talk with my good friend Bill Battle,” Thornton wrote. “Bill, Phillip and I hunt and fish a good bit together. We talked about Bama’s loss Saturday and our search. Bill asked me if Phillip would consider coaching UT. I told him I doubted it because I didn’t think he’d work for Currie.
“This morning I asked Phillip that question and he replied ‘all they would have to do is ask’. So, there’s another option for you but probably not one Jim (Haslam) would go along with.”
Bill Battle coached Tennessee in the 1970s and served as Alabama’s AD from 2013-17. Fulmer and Battle still have a relationship with Thornton, and according to Thornton, Fulmer was willing to come back to coach the Vols if asked.
DiPietro replied that he was “surprised by Phillip’s interest in coaching again.” Thornton would reply that Fulmer would only come back to coaching for Tennessee and nobody else.
“He would do it but only at TN,” Thornton wrote. “When I talked to him this morning he was feeling really bad for the university that he loves. He will do anything to help.”
Fulmer wasn’t named head coach of the Vols, but he did end up getting named the university’s Athletics Director after John Currie was suspended. Fulmer has been AD since December 1st and hired Jeremy Pruitt to become the Vols’ head coach on December 7th.
Thornton also threw out a couple other names for consideration at head coach to DiPietro. He claimed that former LSU head coach Les Miles’ agent had been trying to reach out to Currie for a month but had no luck. “Miles wants to talk,” Thornton wrote. “I have no idea if we would want him but I’m sure Currie’s extreme vetting process would tell us. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one).”
Thornton ended that text with, “PS. Fire Currie, Hire Fulmer to solve it all.”
But Miles wasn’t the only name Thornton threw out. He relayed a text that claimed Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino was interested as well.
“Not sure if you can run this up the flagpole but I just met with a Uof Louisville trustee and major donor,” the text read. “He is very close with Petrino and says that Petrino is leaving this year … not sure where. He said TN needs to call. The trustee said that with Louisville’s AD getting fired, Petrino wants out.”
We detailed a complete timeline of John Currie’s final days as Tennessee’s AD earlier today. Currie never seriously considered Miles or Petrino per his released texts and emails.
The Vols now have Jeremy Pruitt as head coach and Phillip Fulmerr as AD, and Vol fans are happy to have the search behind them.