Phillip Fulmer has been linked to at least three college vacancies since being ousted as Tennessee’s football coach in 2008, but he couldn’t bring himself to pursue any of them seriously.
“I have talked to some people along the way,” Fulmer said Wednesday, “and my feeling at this particular point is that we had an unbelievably great run at Tennessee, and I truly believe we would have been right back on track if it had just been left alone. To go and try to do something like that again at a school that has had its struggles isn’t something that appeals to me a whole lot.
“I was interested in listening, but when it came right down to it, Tennessee is my home. My family is here, and my grandchildren are here.”
Fulmer led the Volunteers to a 152-52 record from 1992 to ’08 and guided them to the ’98 national championship, which was the program’s first since 1951. Tennessee made five trips to the Southeastern Conference title game in an 11-season stretch, but he also endured two losing records in his final four years.
He was linked to the Louisville opening after the 2009 season, the Connecticut opening after the 2010 season and the Kansas opening after this past season.
Now 61 with a fifth grandchild expected in June, Fulmer is a partner at NorthShore Management, a holding company in Knoxville that was founded by former Vols long-snapper Mike West. He will be speaking this weekend to residents and special guests at Garden Plaza of Greenbrier Cove.
“The longer you’re doing something else, the more comfortable you get with it,” Fulmer said. “I am certainly enjoying what I am doing and who I am doing it with, and it’s rewarding from the standpoint that you have more time in terms of a normal life. I still miss football and the highs and the lows that come with it, but my family and I have adjusted, and we’re all doing fine.”
Fulmer attended only a couple of Tennessee games during the 2009-10 seasons because of his involvement as an analyst with CBS Sports, but he went to most of the home games last year. He said he has a good relationship with current coach Derek Dooley, something he didn’t have with Lane Kiffin in ’09, and he doesn’t go to games to critique anything.
The Vols went 5-7 in Fulmer’s final year and are 18-20 in the three seasons since.
“These last few years haven’t been fun for anybody to watch,” said Fulmer, a former Vols offensive lineman who spent more than a decade as an assistant to Johnny Majors. “Derek is in a place where he has to prove himself, and I think he’s working really hard to do that. The proof will be in the pudding when it’s all said and done.”
Though his speeches remain filled with the importance of character and decision-making, Fulmer is no longer dealing with an 18-year-old seeking his manhood but often CEOs trying to take their $500 million-a-year business to $1 billion. The Garden Plaza, located near the Collegedale library, is a new independent living facility supporting active lifestyles for those 55 and older.
“We know that Coach Fulmer is very community minded, with a special focus on the elderly,” said Garden Plaza general manager Dan Bohler. “It will be a thrill to have him here talking about leadership and teamwork and reinforcing the characteristics that help our parents and grandparents make important lifestyle choices after retirement.”
It would have to be the perfect opportunity for Fulmer to get back into coaching, and he isn’t “putting a lid on it totally.” He said there have been opportunities as an NFL offensive line coach or even as an NFL offensive coordinator, but that hasn’t been what he’s wanted to do.
Fulmer maintains he will never say never, but he certainly sounds like a coach who has finished his career 100 games above .500.
“I’m happy and comfortable, and everybody who basically had anything to do with me leaving is gone,” he said. “I’m at peace with what I’m doing.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...