Phillip Fulmer begins task of finding 'right coach' for Vols

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Illustration by Jamie Poole
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Illustration by Jamie Poole

Vols head football coach search

KNOXVILLE - Newly installed University of Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer ruled out one candidate Friday as he geared up for his chance to hire the school's next football coach nine years after his time in that role concluded.

"No," Fulmer said during a news conference with university chancellor Beverly Davenport to announce his new role. "I will not serve as the interim head coach or as the head coach. I have done my duty that way, and I enjoyed it very much."

Fulmer, who compiled a 152-52 record with two Southeastern Conference championships and a national title while coaching Tennessee from 1992 to 2008, is walking into the lead role in a coaching search that has made Tennessee a source of national comedy to this point.

"I've been charged to find the right coach for these circumstances," Fulmer said. "Head coach, assistant coach and coordinators - I wasn't a head coach when I started. More times than not, you like experience to come in, somebody that has been a head coach. We'll see where that goes."

To date, Tennessee has either been rejected or had talks stall with a number of candidates, including Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, Duke coach David Cutcliffe, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren and Washington State coach Mike Leach.

College football's first-ever early signing period for high school seniors runs Dec. 20-22. One prominent Tennessee target, highly touted Knoxville Catholic offensive tackle Cade Mays, announced his top three schools Thursday night. The Vols were not among them, even after he had been committed to the school for two years under previous coach Butch Jones.

Fulmer expressed that he would be willing to get involved with contacting prospects but said he has not established a timeline for hiring the next coach yet, "because this has all happened so fast."

"I think with the background that I've had here, as well as we've done at different times here, the facilities, the tradition, the leadership that we have here, I definitely think there will be people that will be interested," Fulmer said.

One potential candidate who apparently has not been contacted by Tennessee is Southern California offensive coordinator Tee Martin. Martin, 39, led the Volunteers to a national championship in 1998 as the team's starting quarterback while playing for Fulmer.

As for Leach, whom John Currie interviewed Thursday before he was suspended from his role as athletic director, the enigmatic Washington State coach was a subject that Davenport did not want to discuss Friday.

"I want to be clear today that we're here to talk about the change in the leadership in the athletics department," she said. "I'm not going to talk about coaches at any other schools or at any other places."

Fulmer said that turning Tennessee's football program around won't be easy - the Vols suffered their first eight-loss season in school history this year - but that finding a coach "who wants to be at Tennessee" will be a priority.

"We need energy, passion and focus from every Vol fan, alumni, coach and athlete," Fulmer said. "Let's be so unified and enthusiastic we even win over the naysayers. I'm asking all of our fans, our alumni, our student-athletes and coaches: Let's go have some fun winning championships."

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