Phillip Fulmer wants to take a moment, only because the question is out there, to divulge his future plans at Tennessee.
He wants to stay for another eight years, maybe a decade. Maybe even longer.
So there you go, Best of Preps football stars at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday. The coach at Tennessee still wants to pace the sideline when you start having children.
“I’ve said eight to 10 more years. I’d like to do that,” Fulmer said after his speech at the Best of Preps banquet. He was also asked earlier in the week by old friend Bryan Mullen of The Tennessean. “It could be longer. But I don’t plan on being Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, no.”
I like the visual of an elderly Fulmer riding around practice in a golf cart and yelling “Fight like heck!” while waving a cane in the air, but that’s just me. I don’t think he wants that life.
But contemplate the ramifications of Fulmer’s desire to coach another decade.
First, he puts the prospects at ease and squashes the negative recruiting. Fulmer will turn 58 during the 2008 season — not super-old but nearing a normal retirement age — so he needs to make some sort of statement.
Fulmer actually looks healthier than he did five years ago, so the thought of him coaching the 2017 season — including a game against a Nebraska team coached by Bobby Petrino, by then on his eighth job — doesn’t strike me as implausible.
Next, a raise and an extension are forthcoming for Fulmer, and his expressed desire to continue coaching for another decade signals a long-term deal is likely on the way.
And, finally, Fulmer would assure himself of becoming the winningest coach in the history of Tennessee football. Gen. Robert Neyland won 173 games in 21 seasons. Fulmer, 16 years into his tenure, has 147 wins. He’s on pace to break the record in three years.
But what if he loses pace? Remember, an outcry for Fulmer’s firing reached such a peak that former players purchased an ad in the Knoxville newspaper to support the embattled coach. That was like eight months ago. And some criticized athletic director Mike Hamilton for not exactly being the most supportive guy during those troubling times.
Fulmer seems to acknowledge the volatility of his job and wouldn’t comment much on potentially passing Gen. Neyland.
“Once you start focusing on those kinds of things, you’re going to get off track,” he said. “We’re going to focus on our team and this year. In 2005, I think we assumed way too dang much.
“I’m thrilled with what we’re doing and enjoying it every day and who we’re doing it with. We’ve got a really good, young team. I like my staff a lot. I’m here for the long haul.”
But, surely, he’s got to think of his place in Tennessee history, right?
“I would have to think so. Wouldn’t you?” UT assistant Steve Caldwell said. “But you don’t want to talk about those things.”
During his speech Tuesday, Fulmer recounted a reminder of why he can’t assume 27 more wins and his spot atop all the coaching greats at Tennessee.
One morning after a loss, Fulmer picked up his coffee and newspaper at one of those full-service Maryville gas stations as a stranger pumped his gas. The man noticed Fulmer’s national championship ring.
“You follow the Vols?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, I follow them pretty closely, as a matter of fact,” Fulmer replied.
They briefly discussed the loss, the turnovers, the kicking game.
“I’ll tell you what I think,” the man said. “Until they get rid of that Fulmer guy, they’re never going to have a good football team.”
That might be awhile, kind sir. And given Fulmer’s accomplishments at Tennessee, a longer stay should be good for the program.