KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Philip Fulmer always will be a football legend in Knoxville, but he has a unique opportunity to leave another lasting mark on Tennessee athletics.
The Hall of Fame coach-turned-athletic director has been awarded a four-year contract by the university. Fulmer will try to bring the athletic department back to the heights of the 1990s.
“I’m excited about doing this,” Fulmer said while addressing media members in the Ray and Lucy Hand Studio on Thursday. “I was excited about doing it before. I have to balance that. I don’t want to be here 18 hours a day like I did coaching. I don’t have to be. There’s good people around me. But I’m going to spend the time and the effort to get it to where I want it to be. I’m committed to that.”
Fulmer’s coaching background gives him a unique view of how programs should be run. He said that will give him an edge over other athletic directors across the country. This might be Fulmer’s biggest strength.
“Well, I know what a practice is supposed to look like,” Fulmer said. “I know how teams can be affected by injuries, or whatever it might be. I know what an excuse is and a reason is. I don’t have to just look at a win-loss record to know whether we’re making progress or not.
“That’s not just in football. I played a lot of baseball, basketball and been around. I can tell if kids are competing or not on the level they should be.”
Fulmer will always keep a close eye on how the football team is performing. Most athletic directors succeed and fail on the same wave as their football programs.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt was hand-picked by Fulmer to take over the football team just six days after Fulmer assumed athletic director duties on Dec. 1. Fulmer said he believes he is provided enough financial support to help turn around the football program.
“We are trying to get started in some sports,” Fulmer said. “Like football, we have committed to what it takes to get to the level we want to be at. We hope our investment pays off greatly.”
Pruitt signed a six-year deal worth $3.8 million a year. His assistants make combined a $5.635 million annually, including first-time Power 5 offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s $1.2 million salary.
Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC football championship since 1998. Fulmer has made it clear that with the money allocated to the coaching staff it will have every resource available to succeed.
Fulmer has spent much of the last four months helping Pruitt. He didn’t want to rush into any situation without a firm knowledge of what was happening.
“I didn’t jump in and ravage everybody that was here,” Fulmer said. “I wanted to understand and see it. My own gut is to go slow, see what you got and best figure out how to work.”
He now seems ready to make the most of the athletic director role on Rocky Top.