By Alex Norman
Ok… not sure I am used to living in a world in which the University of Tennessee is making smart decisions that also play well in the court of public opinion with regards to athletics.
But that’s where we are now.
First, new Tennessee athletic director John Currie promoted former Vol Chris Woodruff to become the new men’s tennis coach. This is a non-revenue sport so it might not sound like a big deal, but Woodruff is from Knoxville, won a national title as a singles player at Tennessee, and served as an assistant coach for the past 13 years. It’s a harmless choice and won that brought with it some good PR for once.
Then, Currie brought in highly regarded recruiter Tony Vitello to take over the underachieving Tennessee baseball program. A young guy with movie star looks that will bring energy to what once was a successful team. Again, a hire that most agreed with.
And then last week, the University of Tennessee announced that former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer has been hired as the “Special Advisor to the president for community, athletics and university relations.”
These moves are… wow… they are actually good, well out moves that could mean positive things for Tennessee.
Is this real life?
Basically, ever since the University fired Fulmer in November 2008, it has been one PR nightmare after another.
The hiring of Lane Kiffin. The Bruce Pearl/NCAA debacle. The hiring of Dave Hart to replace Hamilton. The decision to eliminate the Lady Vols nickname. The firing of longtime athletic department officials Bud Ford and Debby Jennings. The Title IX related lawsuits.
Should I go on? Because I still have a lot of room to fill in this article.
But the hiring of Fulmer is a sign that the University might finally get it. That people that support the University want to see those that truly love Tennessee playing a role in its present and future.
What was it Fulmer said during that teary eyed press conference? “Our Tennessee family is united in its goals, but divided in the right path to get there. I love Tennessee too much to let her stay divided.”
Think about it… in the 6 years that Dave Hart was running the athletic department; did you ever think he felt 10% as connected to UT as Fulmer? In the 14 months that Lane Kiffin was in charge of the football program, there wasn’t 1% of that affection present.
Kiffin tried to turn Tennessee into the Southern Cal of the south. He didn’t realize Tennessee was already great.
“Phillip has been a tremendous asset to the University of Tennessee both on and off the field for more than 40 years,” University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said in a statement released by the University of Tennessee. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with him on the UT President’s Council, and I look forward to working with him in a broader sense to advocate for the University with our key stakeholders.”
“This is a special opportunity for me. I’ve had the chance to work with Dr. DiPietro for a couple of years in a volunteer capacity, and I was excited when he approached me with this position,” Fulmer said. “I look forward to serving UT campuses statewide, our communities, and UT athletics for the greater good for our great state and the university.”
It’s no secret that Fulmer wanted the job Currie has… and there may be a feeling out period between the two of them, as Currie was working closely with Hamilton at the time of Fulmer’s firing.
But it could also be a sign that the hatchet is being buried.
“As a native Tennessean who has given his all for the Vols throughout his life, both as a student-athlete on the field and during a Hall of Fame coaching career leading our program to its most dominant and successful era in modern history, Coach Fulmer is a perfect ambassador for our University and athletics program,” Currie said. “I’ve appreciated and enjoyed numerous visits with Coach Fulmer since I returned to Knoxville, and I am honored to work with him in support of President DiPietro and Chancellor (Beverly) Davenport as we serve the University of Tennessee, our students and student-athletes.”
Fulmer’s return keeps the positive momentum going at Tennessee.
We will find out together if it continues.