Phillip Fulmer: “The Coaching Chapter of My Life is Closed”

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Rumors have been circulating for weeks about Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer wanting to take over as Tennessee’s head football coach again if the Vols completely fall off the rails during the 2019 season. National writers such as Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports have perpetuated that rumor, claiming that Fulmer would part ways with Pruitt this season if Tennessee continues to slide, and Fulmer himself would take over as head football coach.

    Fulmer has heard these opinions and conspiracy theories, and he addressed those on Wednesday.

    During the “Vol Calls” radio call-in show on Wednesday night, Fulmer joined the show in the last 20 minutes of the program to discuss Tennessee’s football team, Jeremy Pruitt, and more. After discussing the Vols’ brutal start to the 2019 season, Fulmer addressed the rumors about him wanting to take over the football program once again.

    “The other thing that keeps coming up, and I wanna just address it: the coaching chapter of my life is long closed,” Fulmer stated. “I love doing what I’m doing at UT, but I love more being with my family and my grandchildren.

    “We got a really, really good coach, and we gotta make sure we appreciate that.”

    Fulmer was fired as Tennessee’s head football coach in 2008 after serving in that role full-time for over a decade. On December 1st, 2017, Fulmer was named the interim Athletics Director at UT after John Currie was suspended during Tennessee’s search for a head football coach. Fulmer eventually hired Pruitt six days after being hired as AD himself, and he was promoted to full-time AD shortly thereafter.

    The one-time head coach has been out of the coaching game for over a decade, and he apparently doesn’t have the itch to get back on the sideline.

    Fulmer hand-picked Pruitt to take over Tennessee’s football program. Despite the disappointing beginning to this season, Fulmer is still a believer in the Vols’ second-year head coach and realizes the kind of hole Pruitt is having to dig UT out of.

    “Jeremy would tell you himself that they’ve had every opportunity to be 3-1 or better. That’s the discouraging part,” Fulmer said on Wednesday. “But I’ll tell you this: I totally believe in Coach Pruitt and the job he’s doing. He’s a leader, he’s a recruiter, he’s a hard worker, he’s tough-minded, and he confronts the issues that we have. We had a long way to go. We had lots of issues to deal with. We have a really outstanding, good-looking freshman class. We have seven seniors that are busting their butts, and a lot of other kids on the team as well. But we have work to do, but there’s some real opportunities out there.

    “If we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a decent football team. But you can’t turn it over against anybody like we have done and expect to be successful.”

    Fulmer would go on to detail more of the issues Pruitt faced when he came to Knoxville, saying that Tennessee barely had anyone on the roster who weighed over 300 pounds or who could bench press 400 pounds. Even practicing the right way was something Pruitt and his staff had to teach Tennessee’s players.

    “One thing about our fans is they’re passionate. The other thing that’s great about them is they wanna win just like we wanna win. I get it. I’ve been there. I know what a coach looks like. I know what a team looks like when they practice,” Fulmer explained. “We’ve had to learn how to practice here. And we do, we practice well now. It took us a while. Physically, we didn’t have a lot of 300-pounders and hardly anybody who could bench 400 pounds.

    “We’re getting there, but it’s gonna take time and a lot of effort. Jeremy Pruitt is as bought in as anyone can be bought in.”

    Fulmer is pushing back against the narrative that he wants to be back on the sidelines at Tennessee, and he’s all in on Pruitt being the answer. The Vols have a big opportunity on Saturday to make a statement when they host No. 3 Georgia in Neyland Stadium. After that, Tennessee hosts Mississippi State, travels to No. 1 Alabama, and hosts South Carolina to close out October. Tennessee then plays UAB, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt to close out the season.

    Getting to a bowl game would be a nearly unthinkable feat at this point for the Vols. But even earning a 5-7 overall record would be a strong showing of improvement after this season’s 1-3 start, and it would give Fulmer’s words even more weight if it happens.

    One thing is for sure: Don’t expect to see Fulmer back on the sidelines any time soon. At least, not according to the man himself.