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Phillip Fulmer follows University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport, right, into a press conference, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn., where he was named athletic director at the university. The university placed former AD John Currie on paid leave amid what has been a tumultuous and embarrassing football coaching search. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
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UPDATE: Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN reported that Tennessee was in the process of trying to finalize a coaching deal with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

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ORIGINAL STORY: KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee's search for a football coach stayed mostly quiet Wednesday, the day after three Southeastern Conference defensive coordinators emerged as front-runners for the job.

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer was expected to return to Knoxville on Wednesday from New York, where he was attending the National Football Foundation's annual awards banquet and interviewing candidates to be the Volunteers' next head coach.

Some of Fulmer's new peers in college athletics have also been in New York, but for a different reason. The 2017 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum is being held this week, drawing athletic administrators from around the country. Panelists who addressed the topic of Tennessee's recent turmoil at the conference on Wednesday offered rebukes of a coaching search saga that resulted in Fulmer replacing John Currie as AD last week.

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"I don't know all the details of what happened at Tennessee, but John is one of the smartest guys in our industry," Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said, according to USA Today's Dan Wolken. "It looked like the rope was getting pulled in several different directions."

Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele are believed to be top candidates to lead the Vols.

Fulmer was the program's head coach from 1992 to 2008, but he has no experience as an athletic administrator. He was working as a paid consultant to university president Joe DiPietro before Currie was "suspended with pay" last week as Tennessee suffered through a wave of rejections and stalled talks with potential coaches.

The situation has brought the university under national scrutiny.

"When you don't have the board, President and AD in alignment about why you play football, what your goals are, and how you're going to make personnel decisions ... then you get what happened at UT," NCAA president Mark Emmert said at Wednesday's forum, according to a tweet from Jason Belzer, a Forbes contributor who also teaches sports business at Rutgers University.

At Tennessee, the athletic director reports to the chancellor, but the president, board of trustees and boosters are factions with influence in the decision-making process.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, a friend of Currie, also commented on the situation at the conference Wednesday.

"What happened to John is beyond unfortunate," Stricklin said, according to USA Today's Wolken. "It's a tragedy. I don't know if there's anyone as well respected among his peers as John Currie."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.

Vols head football coach search

This story was updated Dec. 6 at 10 p.m. with more information.

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