Phillip Fulmer could extend SEC run of former football coaches serving as ADs

Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer is a "prime candidate" to become the university's next athletic director, according to a recent report by ESPN.
photo Bill Battle, who played for Bear Bryant's first national championship team and coached at Tennessee for seven seasons, is ending his four-year run as Crimson Tide athletic director at the end of the month.


A look at the 14 current athletic directors in the Southeastern Conference and where they came from:› Bill Battle, Alabama: A receiver on Bear Bryant’s first national championship team in 1961, Battle went on to compile a 59-22-4 record as Tennessee football’s head coach from 1970 to ’76 before heading the lucrative Collegiate Licensing Company.› Jeff Long, Arkansas: The inaugural chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee, Long started out as a graduate assistant on the Miami (Ohio) football staff but quickly transitioned into the athletic administration world at the request of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.› Jay Jacobs, Auburn: A starting offensive tackle on Auburn’s 1983 SEC championship team, Jacobs spent the late 1980s as a strength and conditioning coach with the Tigers before becoming an assistant athletic director for the university in 1991.› Scott Stricklin, Florida: Stricklin became familiar in SEC circles through stints in the media relations departments at Mississippi State, Auburn and Kentucky before being named senior associate AD in 2008 at Mississippi State, his alma mater, and overseeing fundraising. He was promoted to athletic director in Starkville two years later and remained there until taking over for legendary Florida AD Jeremy Foley in November.› Greg McGarity, Georgia: A letter winner on Georgia’s 1973 tennis team, McGarity was the women’s tennis coach at his alma mater from 1977 to ’81 and also worked in the sports information department. He was Foley’s right-hand man for nearly two decades at Florida before returning to Athens in 2010.› Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky: Barnhart received his master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University in 1982 and began his career the following year as an intern with San Diego State’s Aztec Foundation. He came to Kentucky after serving as Oregon State’s athletic director.› Joe Alleva, LSU: The Lehigh quarterback and team captain in 1974, Alleva stayed at the university as a graduate assistant while earning his MBA in 1976. Before coming to LSU, he had a successful stint as Duke’s athletic director.› Ross Bjork, Ole Miss: The former Emporia State (Kan.) fullback majored in athletic administration and became the youngest athletic director among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools when he was hired at Western Kentucky.› Joe Cohen, Mississippi State: Named in November to replace Stricklin, Cohen has been Mississippi State’s baseball coach since 2009, earning SEC coach-of-the-year honors twice. He was a member of the school’s 1989 SEC title team as well as the 1990 team that reached the College World Series.› Jim Sterk, Missouri: Sterk set a single-season school record with 164 tackles for Western Washington in 1977, which is where he majored in sports administration. He began his career in athletic administration at Portland State.› Ray Tanner, South Carolina: Arguably the most beloved coach in South Carolina history, even topping Steve Spurrier, Tanner guided the baseball team to a 738-316 record and to College World Series titles in 2010 and ’11 and a runner-up finish in 2012.› Dave Hart, Tennessee: A former Alabama basketball player under C.M. Newton, Hart received his master’s in 1972 while serving as a graduate assistant on Newton’s staff. He came to Tennessee in 2011 after athletic administrative roles with East Carolina, Florida State — where he served as the AD — and Alabama.› Scott Woodward, Texas A&M: The 1985 LSU graduate served as a political consultant and legislative liaison in Baton Rouge before founding a government and public relations firm in the mid-’90s. He returned to LSU as its director of external affairs in 2000.› David Williams, Vanderbilt: A member of the Northern Michigan track team, Williams was a teacher and coach in the Detroit public school system before entering law school. He was a law professor at Ohio State for 14 years before coming to Vanderbilt.

When Bill Battle steps aside at the end of this month as Alabama's athletic director, it will signal a new era, because the Southeastern Conference will not have a single AD with football coaching ties to the league.

Unless, of course, Tennessee hires Phillip Fulmer to replace outgoing athletic director Dave Hart.

Football coaches doubling as athletic directors were once commonplace throughout the SEC, with Alabama's Bear Bryant, Auburn's Pat Dye and Georgia's Vince Dooley having dual roles during most or all of their seasons on the sideline. A majority of the recent AD hires within the league have come from a sports administration background, but Fulmer doesn't believe former football coaches are facing extinction when it comes to overseeing these very big businesses.

"Barry Alvarez has done great at Wisconsin with consistently great football and basketball programs," Fulmer said. "A couple of former baseball coaches have done extremely well as athletic directors at LSU (former AD Skip Bertman) and at South Carolina (current AD Ray Tanner). Terry Don Phillips hired Dabo Swinney at Clemson, so he's an old football coach who's done pretty well for himself.

"I guess it just depends on the person you hire."

Fulmer guided the Volunteers to a 152-52-1 record and the 1998 national title, but former athletic director Mike Hamilton fired him late in the 2008 season. Retirement has hardly been relaxing for Fulmer, who was a founding partner of BPV Capital Management in Knoxville and has served as a consultant for the rebirth of East Tennessee State's football program.

After keeping his distance from Tennessee's program during the brief coaching stints of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, Fulmer was welcomed back in earnest by current coach Butch Jones. The transformation of Fulmer as a former head coach to a potential future athletic director occurred last month, when ESPN's Chris Low referred to him as a "prime candidate" for the position.

Until that moment, Tennessee's athletic director search had been viewed as David Blackburn, the current AD at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, versus the field.

"There is a process to go through, and the chancellor wants to go through the process, but she's not even on campus yet," said Fulmer, who was a guest this week of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "Obviously I love the University of Tennessee. My adult life has been spent around the university in some way or another, and if I can help, I will."

Tennessee's new chancellor, Beverly Davenport, begins work in Knoxville next Wednesday.

The SEC was overrun with existing or former football head coaches running their athletic departments during the late 1980s - Dooley, Dye, Bill Arnsparger (LSU), Doug Dickey (Tennessee), Steve Sloan (Alabama) and Roy Kramer (Vanderbilt). The Ole Miss athletic director at that time, Warner Alford, played for Johnny Vaught's Sugar Bowl champions in 1959 and 1960 and was a Rebels assistant coach in the early 1970s.

When Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, the already legendary Frank Broyles fit right in the league's AD collection and remained in his role until 2007.

It's a different world now, but not a completely opposite world.

"There is the business side of things, and I've had some business experience here in the last eight years," Fulmer said. "I wouldn't be trying to do this if I didn't think that I could do it, and I don't think these other guys would have either."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.