Phillip Fulmer named to College Football Hall of Fame
Phillip Fulmer on plans for the future
As it worked out, Tuesday, a day of celebration, found Phillip Fulmer back where it all started.
On the day he was announced as a first-ballot selection to the College Football Hall of Fame, Fulmer drove home to Winchester to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner.
"Here I am,'' he said, "my first night as a Hall of Famer and I'm back at my roots.''
From his Winchester roots, Fulmer went on to first play football at the University of Tennessee and later to coach his alma mater to one of its winningest eras.
For the latter, he has earned a plaque in college football's highest shrine.
Fulmer was one of three selections in the coaching category announced Tuesday, joined by R.C. Slocum of Texas A&M and Jimmy Johnson, who coached at Oklahoma State and Miami.
Thirteen former players were selected. The induction dinner is Dec. 4 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
"That he was first ballot speaks volumes,'' said John Chavis, Fulmer's defensive coordinator 1995-2008.
Fulmer is the third UT coach selected in the coaching category, joining Robert Neyland and Doug Dickey.
Johnny Majors and Bowden Wyatt, both of whom coached their alma mater, were inducted as players, along with 17 other Vols.
Fulmer served as interim head coach for three games in 1992 then took over full time in 1993.
From ’93 through 2001, Fulmer’s Vols went 91-20, a gaudy .819 winning percentage.
His final seven years were — comparatively — less stellar and Fulmer was forced out in 2008 as the SEC title drought extended to 10 years.
Still, he walked away at 152-52, a .745 winning percentage. (A 1993 tie with Alabama was later recognized as a UT win due to the Crimson Tide using an ineligible player.) Only Neyland won more games at UT.
To be considered for induction, a coach be retired for three years and have a minimum .600 winning percentage during a career of at least 100 games.
Fulmer’s most celebrated season was 1998 when the Vols went 13-0 and won the BCS national championship.
He also won an SEC title in 1997. His teams represented the Eastern Division in the SEC championship game in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
"There's a million people to say thank-you to,'' Fulmer said.
"We had a very, very special time in Tennessee's history and I'm very proud to be a part of it. And I mean that, you're just a part.''
Fulmer played several parts in his UT legacy. He lettered as an offensive lineman 1969-71. He was an assistant coach for the Vols 1980-92.
One of his UT teammates, Bobby Majors — along with Willie Gault and Paul Naumoff — were among 76 players on the 2012 ballot. None were elected.
Chip Kell, another of Fulmer's teammates, was the most recent Vol enshrined, in 2006.
"I had the good fortune to go to New York and see some of my teammates and other coaches I respected get inducted.''
Fulmer's success made him a virtual lock to join those teammates and coaches one day in the Hall of Fame, currently in South Bend, Ind., but slated to move to Atlanta in 2014.
"It certainly wasn't the reason I got into coaching or the reason I enjoyed coaching as much as I did,'' he said.
"You're trying to win the next game. You're never reflecting on those kinds of things.''
He reflected Tuesday, though. Fulmer mentioned the UT administration that gave him a shot, the loyal, long-time assistants like Chavis, David Cutcliffe, Dan Brooks and Steve Caldwell, the behind-the-scenes workhorses like Gary Wyant and Mike Rollo.
The Phillip Fulmer Era
And of course, his family and the extended family of Big Orange fans.
"My family sacrificed so much for me to do a profession that was very demanding,'' he said.
"We never looked at it as a job. We looked at it as a lifestyle.''
At 61, Fulmer would prefer his lifestyle to still be coaching — at UT.
"It's very much bittersweet in some ways,'' he said, "but that's for another time. This is a time to celebrate today.''
Chavis, currently defensive coordinator at LSU, is celebrating for his longtime friend.
"Through his leadership, we did it the right way,'' Chavis said.
"As a head coach, he made sure we were there to serve the kids first.
"I don't mean this in a bad way, but it'll be a long, long time, and maybe never, before anybody duplicates what he did at Tennessee.''