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Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer accepted the Robert R. Neyland Award Saturday by honoring those from the past while looking to the future.
"I hope I have followed the lead of Doug Dickey and John Majors, my mentors, and honored the spirit of Tennessee football,'' said Fulmer, the fifth former UT coach and 44th overall recipient of the annual award given by the Knoxville Quarterback Club in conjunction with the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
Bob Neyland Jr. was on hand to personally present the award.
UT coach Lane Kiffin also made a brief appearance at the start of the ceremony, taking the podium to congratulate Fulmer on winning the award but did not speak with his predecessor.
But the focus of the brunch at the Foundry was to honor Fulmer for his 17 years as Tennessee head coach. In turn, Fulmer paid tribute to the history and lineage of Volunteer football
"Today's presentation was especially significant to Phillip and I'm sure Bob Neyland (Jr.) because it is an extension of Tennessee football,'' said John Ward, who carved his own place in Vols' folklore as the longtime Voice of the Vols. "... the one thing that has always pulled the state of Tennessee together is Tennessee football, and that started with the General, and Phillip was an extension of that.''
Some were surprised Fulmer paid tribute to Majors on two occasions during his acceptance speech.
"Ultimately, it's about the Tennessee family,'' said Fulmer, whose history with Majors has been well-documented. "I'm a branch of that tree and we're all interconnected.
"We all learned from each other and from the General.''
Fulmer said he has not stopped learning; he has visited both college and pro teams, in his words, to keep himself "relevant'' with hopes of coaching again.
Bill Parcells has invited Fulmer to visit the Miami Dolphins, and he also has trips planned to the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts.
"I don't think there's any doubt Phillip still has the fire and desire to coach,'' said former UT assistant Steve Caldwell, who has traveled with Fulmer. "Phillip would love an opportunity, if it's the right opportunity.''
Fulmer said the visits have been encouraging and enlightening.
"I've seen the things we have done offensively and defensively are the same things everyone is doing that's successful,'' Fulmer said. "I've learned how much people admire and respect the Tennessee program and our history.''
Many still endorse Fulmer's coaching skills and abilities. Longtime UT defensive coordinator John Chavis - now the LSU defensive coordinator - stands chief among them.
"What Phillip was able to do at Tennessee will not be duplicated in Knoxville in your or my lifetime,'' Chavis said, referring to Fulmer's 152-52 record (.744), which ranked highest among active coaches with 10 years of service at one university. "He knows how to coach football and how to treat people. The people that played and coached for him will back all of that up.''
So will Fulmer's former rivals.
"You get your name on General Neyland's trophy, that means you've done a lot,'' said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, the 2002 Neyland Award winner. "I remember the great games we had with Tennessee when I was at Alabama, and Phillip's teams were always superbly prepared and competitive.
"I know the people in that area appreciate everything he accomplished; very few people coached at one school as long as Phillip did at Tennessee.''
Woody McCorvey, who coached under both Stallings and Fulmer, said it was appropriate Fulmer be named an immediate Neyland Award winner..
"Coach Fulmer talked a lot about coach Neyland, even in our staff meetings,'' said McCorvey, now at Clemson. "Coach Fulmer was at Tennessee a long time as a player, assistant and head coach, so he saw and understood all aspects of it.
"And he took Tennessee to the pinnacle, winning the national championship.''
Fulmer's appearance at Saturday's Orange and White Game was his first around the team since he was asked to resign at the conclusion of last season.
But he indicated it won't be his last.
"I'm a Tennessee guy, from start to finish,'' Fulmer said. "Certainly I'll continue to support Tennessee football, always.''
Fulmer, who also made special mention of his family support during the ceremony, works with Mike West at Northshore Management, an investment firm.