NEW YORK — Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, a crowning achievement in a career that spanned the most successful era in modern Tennessee football.
Fulmer was honored along with two other coaches and 14 former players at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in front of hundreds of people from around the football world.
"To get to a place like this, you have to have a pedigree that comes from being around a lot people who are very influential, and I was fortunate to be around the right kind of influences," Fulmer told the News Sentinel before the ceremony.
A delegation from Tennessee, including athletic director Dave Hart and chancellor Jimmy Cheek, were expected to attend the ceremony, although the ongoing search for the Vols' next head coach also was part of their task in New York this week.
Fulmer, who was fired in 2008 after compiling a 152-52 record in 17 seasons, was not a candidate for the Vols' current vacancy, but said he expected Hart to make a good hire.
"I love the University of Tennessee and I want it to do well," Fulmer said. "This is a very important hire. We have built a brand at Tennessee that we lost, but we can get back.
"I think Dave Hart has done it exactly the right way from his press conference and what he said he was looking for. I'm very hopeful that he can fill those goals that he described."
Fulmer and his family arrived in New York on Saturday and were eventually joined by an entourage that included 40 friends, boosters and coaching colleagues, including Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, Steve Caldwell, Dan Brooks and Woody McCorvey. John Chavis and David Cutcliffe, who couldn't make it, called with congratulations.
"We had just a fabulous time," Fulmer said. "It was a whole group of people that had been very helpful in all that we've been able to accomplish."
Fulmer came to Tennessee as a player in 1968 and, aside from short stints at Wichita State and Vanderbilt, spent his entire career with the Vols.
"It's absolutely unique, and it's becoming more unique as time goes on because of the changes in the game ... We were blessed to have so many outstanding coaches and players."
Since being selected as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in May, Fulmer said he's had time to reflect on the people who helped him reach the top of the profession. The list is long, and it includes some names you might not expect.
Take legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.
"I went to Wichita State as a 23-year-old line coach. Tom Osborne allowed me to come to Lincoln to be around his program and his practices," Fulmer said. "He was a big influence on me as a coach."
What about Michigan's Bo Schembechler?
"He helped make my decision to get into coaching and stay in coaching," Fulmer said. "I was at a clinic and he was supposed to talk about tackling drills and he started discussing his relationship with players. That had an impact on me."
Fulmer, who grew up in the small town of Winchester, stretched the credit back to his childhood, thanking youth coaches for introducing him to football and coaching the right way.
"I was very fortunate as a little-leaguer to have positive influences that made the game fun, and that affected the way I looked at athletics in general," he said. "High school was the same way."
The two coaches he played for at Tennessee — Dickey and Battle — helped him celebrate the honor in New York. It was Battle who helped nudge Fulmer into the coaching business rather than pursue his original plan of practicing law.
"You look back on the decisions you make in life and think, well, we made some good ones along the way," Fulmer said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.