By Alex Norman
From the moment Phillip Fulmer was hired as Tennessee’s athletics director on December 1st, much-needed stability returned to the UT campus.
So it wasn’t a surprise to learn that on April 19th, Fulmer received a contract extension that will keep him as the AD until 2021.
“Phillip has been a great partner over the last four months and I commend him for the work he has done with our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” said UT Chancellor Dr. Beverly Davenport. “Phillip has been connected to the University of Tennessee and its athletics program for more than 40 years and he understands the expectations we have for our athletics department. He is surrounded by a very knowledgeable staff that is deeply committed to the success of our student-athletes. I look forward to our continued partnership.”
“We are all so much better when we are aligned and pushing ahead together,” Fulmer said. “A perfect example of turning challenges into opportunities is our men’s basketball team this past season. When you care for each other, work really hard and no one cares who gets the credit, lots can be accomplished.”
247Sports reported that Fulmer will get $900,000 a year. He was earning $575,000 when he took over for the dispatched John Currie. In the short time that Fulmer has been on the job, he has hired Jeremy Pruitt to be the Vols football coach, Eve Rackham as Tennessee’s volleyball coach, and inked soccer coach Brian Pensky to an extension. Fulmer is a popular presence with fans, boosters, alumni, coaches and players. He is also a connection to the glory days of the football program.
So why did it take so long for Fulmer to be installed as AD in the first place? Why did Davenport choose Currie in the first place? Well, Currie has the experience she coveted in running a Power 5 conference school (Kansas State). He also had a willingness to communicate with Tennessee fans, something that his predecessor (Dave Hart) never did. Currie’s “Hey John!” portal was a direct line between fans and the AD to discuss anything related to Tennessee athletics. Currie also proved that he wasn’t afraid to make coaching changes when he fired the men’s tennis and baseball coaches.
In September 2017, Currie showed that he was willing to right a wrong when he brought the Lady Vols nickname back for all women’s sports after Hart eliminated the name and logo for all sports except women’s basketball a few years prior.
Then came the coaching search fiasco of 2017, and it was obvious that Davenport did not make the right decision in hiring Currie. The attempt to hire Greg Schiano as the Vols football coach will go down as one of the biggest blunders in the history of the University of Tennessee.
Currie didn’t realize, or didn’t care, that Tennessee fans were going to revolt, and eventually that led to his firing. Fulmer never would have tried to hire Schiano. He would have understood all the reasons why that was such a bad idea.
While Currie was a Tennessee grad and spent more than a decade on campus, Fulmer’s Tennessee connections were much stronger.
Sometimes the best decision is the obvious one, and smart people find a way to “not” make the easy call. Give credit to Davenport. Whether it was a desperation move or not, Fulmer is finally in the place he should be.