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He’s tanned, rested and ready. But ready for what?
The honoree at Phillip Fulmer Appreciation Day on Friday said he’s moving on to the next chapter of his life, but he’s not sure yet what that will be.
For the first time since he was in the seventh grade, Fulmer faces an approaching fall without football-dominated obligations.
He likened the time span since he was fired as Tennessee’s head football coach in November to a sabbatical to review his options.
That could be a return to coaching. It could be moving into the TV broadcast booth. It could be in the business world.
“The good thing is I don’t have to make any huge decisions right now,’’ Fulmer said after being honored by the Optimist Club of Knoxville for his contributions to the community.
“Some days I can’t wait to get back out there (and coach) and some days I say, ‘What in the world am I thinking?’
“There are a lot of things to say no, and there are also a lot of things to say yes.’’
Friday was declared Phillip Fulmer Appreciation Day in both the city of Knoxville and Knox County.
Several speakers lauded Fulmer’s generosity to various charitable causes, including the Jason Foundation (to prevent youth suicide), the Alzheimer’s Association and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.
Judge Tim Irwin, one of Fulmer’s initial group of UT offensive line pupils in 1980, spoke to the positive influence Fulmer had on the development of so many athletes who went on to become contributors to the community.
“I’m just one of many and I see others in this room,’’ Irwin said.
Fulmer clearly enjoyed being in the company of avowed optimists Friday. He’d heard plenty from the pessimists as his only two losing seasons were grouped in his final four years as coach.
He was 152-52 in 16-plus years as UT’s head coach, second in wins behind only Robert Neyland.
Since he was let go by his alma mater — with a $6 million buyout — Fulmer has done some TV work, has a position with a local investment firm and has stayed active with various charities.
He also has visited with several college and NFL teams to refresh his football acumen.
At 58, he says he still has the energy and passion to coach and, judging from appearances, that is the case.
“I’ve critiqued myself and realized there certainly were some things I could have done differently and better,’’ he said, “although we had a tremendous amount of success.
“I just think at the next opportunity, I’ll be even better than I was, and I thought we were pretty darn good.’’
Fulmer said he has to make a decision in the near future on a commitment to being a TV analyst for college football. But it sounds like coaching again would be his first preference.
“I know it would take a special place,’’ he said, “that is interested in competing (for championships).
“That doesn’t mean they’re there right now, but that they’re committed.’’
He said he has reviewed and reorganized his coaching notes and even drawn up lists of possible staff members.
On the other hand, he has enjoyed hunting and fishing and spending more time with his wife, daughters and 11-month-old grandson — all of whom are rooted in East Tennessee at the moment.
“If I get the opportunity, I’ll be ready to go,’’ Fulmer said, “but it’s got to be the right kind of opportunity.
“If not,’’ he added with a chuckle, “I’ve got the makings of one heck of a book.’’