The Tennessee Volunteers are off to yet another disappointing start, which has led to fans and boosters calling for a coaching change during Jeremy Pruitt’s second season at the helm.
One name continues to be brought up, and it’s the last coach to find success in Knoxville: current athletic director Phillip Fulmer. There’s just one problem: Fulmer, 69, says he’s not interested in coaching anymore.
“The coaching chapter of my life is long closed,” Fulmer said in an interview with Rivals.com. “I love doing what I’m doing at UT, but I love more being with my family and grandchildren. We’ve got a really good coach, and we need to make sure we appreciate him.”
Fulmer is the second-winningest coach at Tennessee with a 152-52 record from 1992-2008. He led the Vols to their only BCS national title with an undefeated 1998 season and finished the season in the AP Top 10 in the 1995-99 seasons.
Fulmer's Vols didn't suffer a losing record under his watch until 2005, and he followed that up with back-to-back Outback Bowl appearances and 19 total wins over those two years. But after going 5-7 in 2008, Tennessee fired him and has not been the same since.
Tennessee’s revolving door of head coaches
Like Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers in the “Harry Potter” series, Tennessee has cycled through head football coaches since Fulmer’s departure with more and more bizarre circumstances.
Lane Kiffin posted a 7-6 season in 2009 but immediately bolted for USC after one season. He was followed up by Derek Dooley, who went 15-21 over three losing seasons but remained on the school’s payroll through 2016.
Butch Jones at least managed three winning seasons — including a pair of nine-win campaigns — but is best known for calling his players Champions of Life, which apparently meant more than winning SEC games.
Pruitt appeared to be the school’s best hire in years as a former defensive coordinator at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, but he’s off to a 6-10 start in two seasons, including an embarrassing season-opening loss to Georgia State this year.
Fulmer still has faith in Jeremy Pruitt
Although you wouldn’t believe it from the team’s record, Fulmer, who took over as the Vols’ AD in 2017, says he’s still happy with Pruitt 16 games into his tenure as head coach.
Fulmer was quick to admit that there was a ways to go before they’d be contenders for the conference. Continuing to pull the rug from under a coach after only a few years is no way to build a program, and he wants to see this through.
“Jeremy would tell you himself: We have every opportunity to be 3-1 or better, and that’s the discouraging part of it,” Fulmer said. “But I totally believe in Coach Pruitt and the job that he’s doing. He’s a leader, he’s a recruiter, he’s a hard worker, he’s tough-minded, he confronts the issues that we have.”
Given that Tennessee still has to pay Jones and only recently stopped paying Dooley, another change is unlikely to come soon, even with another disappointing season. Certainly don’t expect Fulmer to come in and save the day.
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