As the University of Tennessee begins its search for a new athletic director, many former UT athletes are breaking their silence in support of Phillip Fulmer.
Almost immediately after Mike Hamilton resigned as AD on Tuesday morning, a network of former Volunteer football players began calling and texting one another to formulate a plan to lobby for the former head coach.
"Coach Fulmer knows how big business operates, not just the football program," said former All-America defensive back Jason Allen. "He was always like the CEO of our team because he knew everything that was going on with every position, on both sides of the ball, as well as our personal lives.
"That's the thing about Coach - he has great people skills and knows how to build relationships," Allen said. "Whether it was with the coaching staff, the players or anybody involved in the program, he's a very bright guy and someone that all of us who love the university know would always do what's right for UT.
"We want somebody that we trust to get all the sports programs back where they should be," Allen said. "Not just football. He's the kind of guy who would hold people accountable for not only winning, but doing things the right way, with integrity and making sure the kids were succeeding on the field, in the classroom and in life."
A native Tennessean, Fulmer played for three seasons at UT, served as an assistant for 13 years and took over as head coach in 1992 until he was fired by Hamilton following the 2008 season, when he went 5-7. His career record with the Vols was 152-52, including the 1998 national championship and six SEC East titles.
Fulmer told ESPN.com on Wednesday that while he is not politicking for the job, he would be interested in helping his alma mater in any way.
"He has heard about all the support from his former players, and he's touched and excited to hear how they're behind him," said former UT linebacker Robert Peace, who also is Fulmer's son-in-law. "He was more than just a coach. He's been in the business world and been successful in that area, and he learned from working under [former AD] Doug Dickey how to set up other coaches and programs to be champions.
"Just today I've spoken with Al Wilson, Jason Respert, Casey Clausen, Jason Witten and other former players, and we're all excited about the possibility of coach Fulmer taking over. We're at a place right now where we have a lot of division among the UT family. I don't think they're on the same page right now, and it's imperative to have a man who knows how to bring Tennessee people back together. The same reason a lot of us came to UT when coach Fulmer recruited us, his people skills, is the same reason he's the right choice now."
Another former Vol, safety Fred White, used Vince Dooley at Georgia and Tom Osborne at Nebraska as examples of former head football coaches who also became successful athletic directors at their schools.
Since Fulmer's firing, the football program has had two head coaches in as many seasons, not winning more than seven games in either year. Lane Kiffin, who replaced Fulmer before bolting for the Southern California job after one season, and former basketball coach Bruce Pearl will join UT athletic representatives Saturday in Indianapolis when both those programs go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions for a list of rules violations. The charges that led to that hearing also fueled Hamilton's resignation.
"It's been tough to watch my school, my family, struggle the last few years," said former UT linebacker Eddie Moore, who joined Peace in bringing together the former players. "You want to do something to help make it better, to get over the adversity. Once we started trading so many calls and texts, Robert and I decided to pool all the guys together and get the word out just how much we support the idea of coach Fulmer taking over as AD.
"I liked Mike Hamilton, and didn't have anything against him personally, but I didn't agree with a lot of the choices he made. He was good with the business end but wasn't always a good judge of character or what was best for the university. I think Coach Fulmer would excel in both areas. We've been hurt by hiring people outside the family. We need somebody who loves the state and the school more than they love themselves, and that's coach Fulmer."
E-mail Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.