NEW YORK — Phillip Fulmer's Hall of Fame journey started at Tennessee in 1968, ended there 40 years later and included only six seasons in between in which he wasn't directly involved in Vols football.
Fulmer will be inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame at a ceremony Tuesday night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
It's a black-tie affair, so he probably won't be wearing orange, but there is little doubt that he enters the Hall as a Vol.
Fulmer spent 17 years as Tennessee's head coach, compiled a 152-52 record before being let go in 2008, and was selected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot this summer. Tennessee honored him in October at Neyland Stadium when it recognized the 15th anniversary of the 1998 national championship team.
"I'd like to have everybody go to New York, but I'd have to have 10,000 tickets — there were that many players and coaches and fans and administrators that were so supportive," Fulmer said in an interview with the News Sentinel earlier this year.
The NFF Awards Dinner will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com at 8 p.m. A morning news conference featuring inductees and award-winners will air at 9 a.m.
The Vols won a second consecutive SEC title in 1998 and capped an undefeated season with a victory in the Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship. It was the apex of one of the best stretches in modern college football history, as the Vols went 45-5 from 1995-1998. Overall, Fulmer's teams finished the season in the AP Top 10 six times and in the Top 25 13 times.
Among current head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only two (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Troy's Larry Blakeney) have been at their current jobs longer than Fulmer was at Tennessee. (Kansas State's Bill Snyer and Nevada's Chris Ault have longer stints, but not in consecutive years).
"The consistency is what we were all about," Fulmer said. "We tried to surround the team with a family kind of atmosphere. We did it all together — one for all, all for one." That kind of longevity — and a core of assistant coaches with similar experience — helped Fulmer build a national recruiting base that aided the team's dominance in the mid- to late-90s.
"When you're invested in a place the way Coach Fulmer and his coaches were, it's so easy to sell a school and make players feel like they want to play for you," All-American linebacker Al Wilson, a captain of the 1998 team, told ESPN.com. "He had a passion for Tennessee. It's so different nowadays with coaches going from school to school. There's very little loyalty in the college game. Coach Fulmer's one of the last coaches who really had that loyalty."
"I had a fantastic career at one school, which is unheard of," Fulmer said. "It being my school made it even more special."
Fulmer's family and some of his former assistant coaches — like Steve Caldwell and Dan Brooks — are in New York for the ceremony. The ballroom will be filled with colleagues from the coaching profession and he'll be inducted alongside former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, a good friend, and Jimmy Johnson, who is best known in college football for his time at Miami (Fla.).
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.