KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was a “Back to the Future” moment for Tennessee football Friday afternoon with Phillip Fulmer talking about championships again, and more nostalgia could be in the works.
Pieces of the 1998 national championship Vols could be coming back as staff members with Fulmer running the show as athletic director.
The first thing to understand about Fulmer being in charge is that he won’t be anyone’s “yes” man. Fulmer wouldn’t have accepted the position unless he was assured he would truly be in control.
Tee Martin, USC’s 39-year-old offensive coordinator and Tennessee’s 1998 national championship QB, is indeed a candidate for the head coaching job.
Before anyone suggests Martin is too young, remember Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took over the Tigers when he was 38 years old.
Al Wilson, the middle linebacker and unquestioned leader of the Vols’ 1998 team, endorsed Martin as a head coaching candidate hours before Fulmer was appointed athletic director on Friday.
“Here’s the deal man, I’m a Tee Martin fan, and I’m not saying that as his buddy, OK?” said Wilson, a consensus All-American at Tennessee and five-time NFL Pro Bowl player during his 8-year career with the Denver Broncos.
“So I watch offenses, and I’m watching the production he has put on the field, and playing the quarterback position, he sees the game differently than anyone else,” he said. “He understands what it’s all about, and that’s the type of thing the separates average coaches and good coaches.”
Wilson indicated that John Chavis, Texas A&M’s 61-year-old defensive coordinator and Tennessee’s 1998 national championship defensive coordinator, must also be considered as a potential key to the future.
Fulmer notably left the door open for a coordinator to become the Vols’ next head coach during Friday’s press conference with an unprompted reference that “I wasn’t a head coach when I started,” adding that “more times than not you like experience, we’ll see where that goes.”
Indeed, we’ll see where that goes, but Martin and Chavis are two men who earned Fulmer’s respect like few others.
Fulmer knows there are outsiders critical of Tennessee fans’ decision to reject controversial candidate Greg Schiano.
The Vols’ 67-year-old athletic director also knows there are some who don’t understand why Tennessee would want to rekindle its glory years by reaching back to hire him nine years after he was unceremoniously fired.
But as one Tennessee coaching candidate who asked not to be named said on Friday, “if you weren’t a part of it, you wouldn’t understand it.”
But several Vols’ fans were a part of it, and they are making themselves heard on social media and rebuffing national media outsiders that are taking potshots at the notion that Fulmer might get something going.
— Tee Martin (@coachtee17) December 2, 2017
Fulmer described what he wanted in a head coach during Friday’s press conference reading from a prepared statement.
“We first must find us a coach who wants to be at Tennessee, who appreciates the unique opportunity that we have to offer at this very special place, at this historical time,” Fulmer said. “The kind of head coach who will honor our university’s value, will be proud to represent our state and will be a role model for our student-athletes.”
As for former Tennessee football staff members who might be prime candidates to return to the Vols, here’s a short list of a few that come to mind and their current positions — purely speculative, of course:
* indicates part of national championship staff
*John Chavis (61) DC — Defensive coordinator at Texas A&M
Kevin Simon (34) LB — With Atlanta Falcons in 10th year in NFL scouting
Terry Fair (41) CB — Colorado State cornerbacks coach
Trooper Taylor (47) ST — Arkansas State associate head coach/cornerbacks
*Randy Sanders (52) OC-QBs — Co-offensive coordinator at Florida State
Jay Graham (42) RB — Running backs coach at Florida State
*Pat Washington (54) WR — Tight ends coach at South Carolina
Greg Adkins (49) OL — Offensive line coach at Charlotte