Staff Photo by Dan Henry UT's head coach Phillip Fulmer walks off of the field with his wife Vicki Fulmer after losing to Auburn 14-12 at Jordan Hare Stadium.
KNOXVILLE — Phillip Fulmer choked back tears for more than 10 minutes Monday evening in Neyland Stadium as he announced his resignation as head football coach at the University of Tennessee.
Mr. Fulmer sat beside Athletic Director Mike Hamilton about 24 hours after the two met Sunday afternoon and decided that Mr. Fulmer would step down at the end of this season.
“This is not an easy day for me and my family. It’s not a day that I sought or accepted easily,” said Mr. Fulmer, who enrolled at UT as a freshman offensive lineman in 1968 and has played or coached for the school all but six years since.
“Our Tennessee family is united in its goals but divided in the right path to get there,” Mr. Fulmer said. “I love Tennessee too much to let her stay divided.”
Mr. Hamilton said the decision “did not come without great consternation.”
“But it’s my position that our best position is our current circumstance,” he added.
Mr. Hamilton’s feelings were not universal. Every UT assistant coach and most of the team’s players were among the hundreds crammed into Neyland Stadium’s small media room, and some of them were clearly angry.
John “Thunder” Thornton, a prominent Chattanooga-area businessman, former UT board of trustees member and close friend of Mr. Fulmer’s, also disagreed with Mr. Hamilton.
“It’s a painful day for me, and for the Fulmer family, and I think for Tennessee athletics,” Mr. Thornton said Monday afternoon on his cell phone. “I don’t agree with the change. Phillip’s a lucky man. ... He will be just fine, but I’m not sure about the University of Tennessee athletics department.”
Mr. Hamilton said UT’s Nov. 29 game against Kentucky in Neyland Stadium will be declared “Phillip Fulmer Day.”