KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Phillip Fulmer gives Tennessee football an “edge up” in its quest to return to championship form, according to former SEC championship football coach Tommy Tuberville.
“I think the combination of Phillip Fulmer being athletic director and Jeremy Pruitt being the head coach in training, so to speak, is a huge boost for the Tennessee football program,” Tuberville said on the ‘3-Man Front’ show on WJOX in Birmingham, Ala., last week.
“Every school in the conference has to have an edge up, and I think that’s the edge up for Tennessee, when they hired Phillip Fulmer, he knows how to win in the conference,” Tuberville said. “[Fulmer] brought a young coach in who has never been a head coach, it’s going to take him a while, but Phillip is going to mentor him, he’s gonna teach him the ins and outs of Tennessee, the ins and outs of SEC football.”
Fulmer, a first-ballot College Football Hall of Fame coach, went 152-52 as the Vols’ coach from 1992-2008.
Fulmer was hired as UT athletic director on Dec. 1, and he put his faith in Pruitt. Fulmer selected the 43-year-old over several other candidates on Dec. 7, largely because the two share a very similar football ideology.
“If [Pruitt] will listen to him,” Tuberville said, “I think Tennessee is going to be a very good football team in three or four years, it’s gonna take a while.”
Indeed, but Pruitt inherits a better situation than the previous two Vols coaches, both of whom had to deal with the specter of an NCAA investigation/probation cloud left over from Lane Kiffin’s one season as coach (2009).
Tuberville, 63, is likely a future College Football Hall of Fame selection, having led Auburn to a 13-0 season in 2004 en route to a 159-99 record as a coach with other stops at Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Cincinnati.
Like Pruitt, Tuberville made his mark as a defensive assistant in dominant programs. Tuberville worked for the Miami Hurricanes under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson (1986-1993), before a season under R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M led to his first head coaching stop at Ole Miss (1995-1998).
Tuberville indicated that Vols fans who are worried that Fulmer will somehow get in Pruitt’s way don’t understand how things can work.
“I know Phillip, Phillip is a smart guy, and understand, he’s not going to push Jeremy Pruitt around, he’s going to mentor him, he’s going to help him,” Tuberville said. “He wants Tennessee to win as much as anybody, so I think it’s going to be a scenario a lot like Wisconsin.
“Barry Alvarez is the best athletic director in college, they win in almost every sport, and Phillip Fulmer will do the same thing, he understands coaches.”
Tennessee enters its final week of spring football training with the annual Orange and White Game scheduled for 2 p.m. ET next Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols held their second scrimmage of spring Saturday night.