Coach's first job is as educator, mentor

Phillip Fulmer

Photo by UT Photo

Phillip Fulmer

Phillip Fulmer

Photo by UT Photo

Phillip Fulmer

Editor's note: Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer has written this guest column in response to Tuesday's column by sports editor John Adams:

Most college football fans visualize the head coach pacing the sidelines on Saturday afternoon. But the truth is that our hardest work is done far from the view of fans, sportswriters, or television cameras.

In my 30 years of coaching, my proudest victories have come in places much quieter than Neyland Stadium - they've come when departing seniors stop by my office the day before graduating or when mothers send notes of thanks, acknowledging that the immature boys they sent to Knoxville have come home as responsible young men.

Those are the moments that are the greatest moments in coaching and the importance compels me to do something I have never done in my career - respond directly in writing to a negative column in the newspaper.

In Tuesday's <I>Knoxville News-Sentinel</I>, you may have seen John Adams' column attacking my character and my leadership. We live in a free country, and Mr. Adams has built a successful career speaking his mind - that's his right. But the readers of the <I>News-Sentinel </I>have a right to know what Mr. Adams doesn't know, as well.

Mr. Adams has never sat next to me in a prospect's living room, looking his mother or grandmother in the eyes and promising to treat the young man like he was my own child - giving him tough love when necessary and an opportunity to straighten up when that's in order. It is a promise I take seriously and will never abandon to please any columnist.

My first job as a coach is to be an educator and a mentor. That's why I have dedicated my professional life to football on the college level and my private life to charities like the Jason Foundation that prevents teen suicide, and the Boys and Girls Club that touches the lives of today's youth at a very early age.

At the flagship university in my home state, I am expected to run a program that succeeds on the field - but I am also obligated and committed to doing my best to help every player become an educated, responsible adult. We don't win every game and we don't succeed in grooming every young man, but make no mistake that my first and foremost priority is the growth of our young men as well as winning football games.

Unfortunately there is no template for helping young people grow to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. I have four children of my own, including a varsity athlete, and like any parent can tell you, each child is unique and each one requires different parenting. The same is true of our football players. The vast majority of our players come to UT and have a great experience, enriching our campus community, and leaving it better than they found it. They all have needs along the way - in the case of a very small number of them, they need a good dose of discipline and accountability.

Since I have been the head coach at UT, I have learned a great deal about mixing "tough love" and encouragement. The hundreds of players we have graduated will gladly attest to both - they have all loved and despised me at different points in their college days. I have kicked some of our most talented athletes off the team when I thought it would do them the most good as individuals or they were damaging our goals as a team. I have taken the heat from partially-informed pundits when I gave others a second chance. I accept that role with honor and humility; it's what an educator does.

It is on this point that I feel most compelled to take issue with Mr. Adams' column. He is certainly free to criticize my football strategy - during my tenure our program has won more games than 95 percent of all other major college programs, but his criticism on that is fair game. He is free to critique our team's appeal with our fans - we have ranked no worse than fourth in attendance in the nation every year I have been head coach, but he's within his rights to chastise us for that too. He is free to say that my best days are behind me - our most recent team finished first in what was the toughest SEC East in two decades, but I accept his criticism on that as well. What I will not accept is Mr. Adams questioning my integrity, my sense of fairness, or values as a man.

At no time in my tenure has a player's football skill or athletic success been a factor in the way he was disciplined. Never. Our internal discipline is based on one factor alone: the course that is most likely to help that individual young man make amends and get his life straight. We make these decisions after much deliberation and with the input of administration, professional staff, counselors, and when necessary, law enforcement. This is not the easy way to mete out punishment. It requires judgment and leadership to keep the entire team focused and respectful of rules and basic morality, but it is the method that best serves the interest of our young men. In my 15 years, I've undoubtedly made some mistakes, but I try to do what I think is in the best interest for each young man.

It should be noted this is not the first time Mr. Adams has raised this complaint with limited perspective. Thirteen years ago I suspended a young man for two games based on a troubling off-the-field incident and Mr. Adams wrote that I should have kicked him off the team instead. I knew that young man better than Mr. Adams did, and today he is not only a UT graduate, but a sergeant with the Knoxville Sheriff's Department, putting his life on the line for all of us everyday.

Our program, like almost any student group at any major university, has had more students find trouble than any of us in collegiate administration desire. As a parent myself, I routinely lose sleep worrying about the 100 or so young men put in my care. And like any educator, I want all our students to succeed all the time. I'm sure Mr. Adams wants that, too. But from inside the university halls looking outward, that job is a lot different than it looks from the press box where Mr. Adams sits.

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 687

zjcvols#543765 writes:

Wow. I'm shocked Fulmer did this. Glad he did this. Maybe he will become a tougher coach on his players (on and off-field). He's a good coach. Shows me he won't take anymore phooey, which I want to see.

juicetke#226846 writes:

Love ya coach.

TommyJack writes:

Surprised he responded.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Thanks Coach, for all you do for UT. Most of us are very proud of you. In Adams' column, he suggested that you should not worry about the player, just the program. In other words, just do what makes you look good. When I read that, I said that if Coach Fulmer starts doing that, then I would want him fired too. Thank God, that is not you. Only people like Adams have so little integrity as to suggest such action. Again, thanks Coach.

alfrizzle097 writes:

Glad to hear Fulmer come out and say it. I've been telling people this when they criticize him. Just want to see how Adams responds... will he push the agenda, withdraw his remarks, ignore, or agree to disagree?

memvol08 writes:

As a letterman who played under Coach Fulmer, I'm glad he wrote this. He has been too quiet up to this point in defending himself, but I understand why he has avoided speaking out. He is a very strong man with high moral integrity and class and he refuses to acknowledge writers who have no clue what they are talking about in most cases. Perspective is much different when you are in the cheap seats Mr. Adams, and Coach Fulmer is doing the right thing most of the time

kronusmc30#421192 writes:

Coach Fulmer I am glad you responded to this trash that John Adams wrote. Thank you for you service to not only the school but to those young men you work hard for.

FLVol writes:

Nice job Coach Fulmer. It had to be said. The public has no idea of each situation and how important it is sometimes to give a young man a second chance. Who knows what would have happened to that player who later became a seargant. Thanks for all that you do for our team, the players, and the fans. Bryan M - Class of 1990.

AllVol writes:

What else is there to say? I don't see Saban, Meyer, or even Spurrier doing something like this. Question his football coaching skill, strategy, or anything else, but anyone who questions this man's integrity or quality or his love and dedication to this state and the University of Tennessee is an absolute useless idiot. God bless you, Coach Fulmer.

utwick writes:

Well said. I'm glad to see Coach Fulmer drawing this line with the media, and hope that it will have a positive effect on the team. No one knows what goes on behind the doors at UT better than Fulmer. I don't doubt his integrity or his committment to his players. His decisions are the tough ones to make and do impact a lot of young men. There is a lot more to coaching than the Ws and Ls, and I would not trade with him. It upsets me no end to see my school the subject of negative press (even though it is sometines deverved). Hope you can get it turned around ,coach, and keep the "action" on the field.

cjraney writes:

Coach, I appreciate your lifelong dedication to this university. It's unfortunate that you have to put up with a lot of trash in the course of doing your job. Thanks for always trying to take the high road and representing Tennessee with integrity. I hope you have continued success until you decide you've had enough.
Go Vols!

CrimsonTide writes:

Coach Fulmer, you have shown a lot courage and a lot of class. I have gained new respect for you. My God, did I just say that? Well, I mean it.

tnmike writes:


volfaninVA writes:

Well said Coach. Proud to have you out front representing our program. Too bad the News-Sentinel doesn't have as fine a representative fronting their sports department. GO BIG ORANGE!

vol98 writes:

Thanks coach...

FWBVol writes:

Keep up the good work Coach. I appreciate what you've done and continue to do for OUR University of Tennessee.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

Phillip, I'm STILL proud to have you as our coach. Maybe there's a future for Adams on the New York Times staff.

bd330794#206783 writes:

Coach Fulmer,
You don't have to defend yourself to anyone. Your record on and off he speaks for itself. All of us who are rational understand what you do and couldn't be more proud of the job you've done.

JackCrevol writes:

Fulmer 10 Fadams 1

Phowell23 writes:

Mr. Adams - you look like an a$$ now. Hope you are happy.

gobigorange writes:


CoverOrange writes:

Kudos to Phil for reminding us that there is always more to the story.

Kudos to KNS for printing this.

When it says "Editor's note" at the top is that the sports editor or the whole newspaper's editor? Hmmmm.

dc4 writes:

Coach, thanks for your loyalty to our University of Tennessee. You're career has been marked by integrity and loyalty while our league has seen greed and self-interest get the best of many coaches.

Thank you for representing us with class. The University of Tennessee could not have a better ambassador. Go Vols!

RJ_Vol writes:

I am thankful we have a coach that thinks that way. KNS should consider it a privilege that Coach should even respond after they attempted to besmirch his reputation. Maybe Coach Fulmer should be a guest writer more often. It would give me a reason not to throw the KNS into the compost pile before reading it!

birminghamvol writes:

The FACT is "coach" is you are one of the highest paid coaches in CFB. The FACT is "coach", you have had MORE off the field problems the past few years than just about any other coach in CFB. The FACT is coach is you have been slow to react to make changes that are necessary to keep the UT program at the top in the SEC. The FACT is "coach" is that you haven't won an SEC title in NINE years now. The FACT is "coach" is you have poor records this decade against EVERY top tier coach in this conference. The FACT is "coach" that UT has a PITIFUL bowl record under your watchful eye since you brought home the trophy in 1998. The FACT is "coach" that you have a poor record against top tier competition this decade .. especially in the "friendly" confines of Neyland Stadium. The FACT is "coach" is you have not lived up to our own programs history ... failing to win an SEC title so far in this decade with only TWO years to go when HISTORY shows that UT wins at least 2 SEC titles per decade or the "coach" gets fired (1970's). You had a good run at UT ... it just lasted a few years too long and this TRUE VOL FAN hopes that for the GOOD OF THE PROGRAM ... your run will soon end. Please let us all know when that will be so this fan can start enjoying UT football again. Like some of YOUR players lately ... you just don't know when to say when.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Mr. Adams, now it's time for you to act like a man and show some courage. It is time for an apology.

rockyknox writes:

Coach Fulmer, you are a class act in my book. I would say that the KNS needs a change at top but that would be giving Mr. Adams more credit than he deserves.

99gator writes:

good for fulmer.

as i said in response to the adams article....

i am sure there are some souls phil and the staff could not save.....but, did adams or anyone else bother to find the many individuals who they did save.

volunteers_2000#206680 writes:

Glad you responded Coach. You are a class act. Thanks for your dedication. Go Vols!

FWBVol writes:

rabidvolfan, you are wrong. Not one player recruited by Majors was on the 1998 team. How did Johnny build that when his last year was 1992?

Majors had a reputation of being an average recruiter at best. Phillip Fulmer has a reputation of being one of the best. Everything that UT accomplished in the 1980s and 1990s with Majors, also had a strong touch of assistant coach Phillip Fulmer in the mix.

Tnvolsfan4ever (Inactive) writes:

I smell a corn dog cooking!!

cjraney writes:

You may want to try reading the actual words in the column before posting your response.

Here, I'll help you. CPF stated he accepts any football-related criticism Adams cares to write. But he will not accept JA "questioning my integrity, my sense of fairness, or values as a man."

abills#477949 writes:

Coach Fulmer, It's clear that you understand what should be the true nature of your profession. It's refreshing to hear an unwaivering voice of reason. Thanks for your example.

utclassof1992 writes:

Just more spin from a man who needs to gracefully lay it down. Thanks for the memories, but its time to retire and get some fresh, motivated blood. I personally like John Adams. He is not a UT cheerleader, but a journalist with the guts to disagree with the party line and the integrity to write what he sees without regard to pressure and intimidation. I bleed Orange, and sometimes, Adams' candor is refreshing.

grogpaw#362163 writes:

I don't know what caused John Adams to go personal in his article but he certainly did go personal. But even worse that what John Adams wrote was that The News Sentinel allowed it to be published in the first place. Coach Fulmer just proved to me that he is a much better person than John Adams. I now understand why so many people have a negative opinion about John Adams because he has shown that he will readily commit one of the most vile things a journalist can do - use his position to further his personal agenda. In closing, all I can say is "Thank you Coach Fulmer for being a better person than John Adams."

pventimi#592480 writes:

I wonder if John Adams will have the maturity to respond to this?

It'll only take two words... "I'm sorry." Yet, it doesn't seem very likely that Adams is man enough to know when he's been bested.

hogan writes:

It sounds to me like Mr. Adams hit a really big nerve in Fulmer, and more than likely the whole AD department. I've never seen a coach do something like this, unless there hear the footsteps behind them!!!! Plus what Adams wrote is True, how many other kids get 5 chances unless your name has been on many jersey's before!!!!

Tenn_Dawg writes:

Well said Fulmer!!! Time to pack up the moving van John.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Volster, you may notice that even an Alabama fan posted support for Fulmer's article. What a shame that the haters don't have as much class as an Alabama fan.

FlaVol2 writes:

Way to go Coach! I watched you play for UT, and I watched you lead a very successful football program when you had the chance and became head coach of the Vols. I apprecite you and your work with the athletes and your leadership. You have done a super job. Keep up the great work and do not let the buzzards detract you from your mission - They are not worth it.

cjraney writes:

Dang man. From the sound of your capital letters & quotation marks you seem upset. Maybe you should consider another pasttime that is more enjoyable for you. And more calming........maybe knitting?

KEVols writes:

Well said! Charcter and Integrity matters. GO VOLS!!!!!!

Musicman74 writes:

Well said coach, the people who have never played football do not know how tough itis. All the fans get on the coach when things don't go the way they think they should. I would like to see the nasayers, get out there and try to coach a team, with everyone jumping on there back. I did not play college ball but I did play high school ball, for a team in South Carolina.

I played for Clinton High School, and if you didn't play for a state championship every year then you were a failure. I played in three State Championship games so I do know the presure it puts on the Head Coach. So the nasayers that post on here should give Coach Fulmer a break.

writer#358485 writes:

Nicely done coach. The suggestion about Adams for the NY Times sounds about right. I don't know where Adams stands politically, but if he is as far left in politics as as he is far out in left field on his column, they should get along well. It sounds like Pravda-West could use a writer like John Adams.

mtnvol writes:

As a rule of thumb, I wouldn't get into a war of words with people that buy ink by the barrel; especially those with a thinly veiled ax to grind. However, I think this response is well deserved. Yes, critique anything related to the field...what you can see. But don't critique that which you cannot see. We as fans have NO IDEA what goes on behind closed doors! We have NO IDEA what is done or said with and to these young men. It would be the same if I was to walk into Adams' house and critique his parenting skills without actually meeting his kids.

Our reputation and good name are all we really take with us in the world. I have no problem with a man defending his honor when it is attacked, especailly by those who pretend to know everything when in fact they know very little.

As of now, it looks like the court of public opinion is ready to send a moving van to Adams' house!!!!

Riprock writes:

Great response to an unwarranted attack on your integrity. Your efforts at UT, on and off the field, are appreciated!

vol52 writes:

I do not believe that Fulmer can defend not dismissing Colquitt from the team. Had he done it he would not have had the editorial from Adams and he would not have to be defending his position.

heathut15 writes:

good call FWBVOL this is all big Phil

rootin4volz writes:

Thank you, Coach Fulmer, for ALL that you do. You are a true gentleman, and you're a damn good football coach.

John Adams, I don't think we need to go over what you's pretty obvious...And I'm pretty sure that after this letter from Coach Fulmer, you feel like one too.

MrBamSeydu writes:

I guess out goes the window with "I never read what's written about me", huh?

But I've gotta say that I respect CPF for this and I think most, if not all, UT sports fans would agree that at the VERY least he is a good person who does the best he can. It's sad sometimes to think how fans get so hung up on W's and L's, without keeping the rest of what a coach really does in the equation. However, I think Coach has done alot better job OFF the field than on it in since the turn of the century. I do not think he should be fired as long as he's at least TAKING US to the SEC CH GAME, but it'd be nice to win one every few years and that just hasn't been the case.

*** I really think the loss to LSU in the 2001 SEC CH GAME was a huge turn around in program history. Had we won, that'd have been at least a visit to the national championship game and who knows how it would have changed recruiting and the years to follow.

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