JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — The most recent conversation was ironically normal.
The next time Derek Dooley and Phillip Fulmer speak, though, will have a more special intent.
Fulmer, a former University of Tennessee football coach, was announced Tuesday as a 2012 selection for the College Football Hall of Fame. Dooley, the Volunteers' current coach, spoke with Fulmer on Monday.
"I spoke with him yesterday and had just a great normal conversation with no real objective other than to touch base with him," Dooley said Tuesday evening as the Big Orange Caravan kicked off its second week in Johnson City. "This was before I knew it. He probably thought I was calling to congratulate him, but I didn't know the news.
"I'm going to reach back out to him."
Fulmer earned the sport's highest honor in his first year of eligibility. His teams won 152 games and two SEC titles in his 16 seasons as UT's head coach. The former UT offensive lineman's greatest moment was the undefeated national championship season in 1998.
Dave Hart, UT's new vice chancellor and athletic director, was on the opposite sideline for the BCS championship game that January night in Arizona as the athletic director at Florida State.
"Peerless Price, two deep balls -- I remember that very well," Hart recalled. "We've talked about that, too. That was a great night for [Tennessee] and a great memory. Those memories last a lifetime."
Hart's relationship with Fulmer goes beyond that single game. As East Carolina's athletic director from 1987 to 1995, Hart attempted to hire Fulmer to run the Pirates' football program. It didn't work out.
"We had a good laugh about all that," Hart said, "because I knew, I said, 'Phillip, if you come to East Carolina, I'll be in a search again next year.' Sure enough, that next year he was named head coach at Tennessee. I've known him a long, long time and really have enjoyed being around him and his wife."
Unlike Dooley, Hart was aware of Fulmer's pending honor after a lunch meeting with him and UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek "a couple of Fridays ago." Hart said he left Fulmer a congratulatory telephone message earlier today. He added that he "absolutely" wanted to see Fulmer around the program more and said he's stressed that to the former coach.
Dooley said he and Fulmer have kept in touch.
"He was the first person I called when I got the job [in 2010], and I have a lot of respect for him," Dooley said. "You take the last 30 years, it's been Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors. That's what Tennessee football was for me as a child.
"You look at the run he had in the '90s, I mean, there's not many people that have coached college football that had a run like that. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, he bleeds orange and I know he loves Tennessee. I'd be a fool not to reach out to him."
The next time Dooley does reach out, he'll have a specific message in mind.
"[It's] well deserved, and any time you get in that quick after you've been out of coaching, it ought to tell you what kind of job he did," Dooley said. "I know all the Tennessee fans are proud for him. It's the highest honor you can get as a player and as a coach."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...