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UPDATE: Fulmer to take over UT athletics in wake of coaching search disaster

Associated Press • Updated Dec 1, 2017 at 4:40 PM

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has named Phillip Fulmer athletic director and placed former AD John Currie on paid leave amid what has been a tumultuous and embarrassing football coaching search.

Chancellor Beverly Davenport announced the move Friday. She says Fulmer will immediately take over the coaching search.

Tennessee fired football Butch Jones last month and was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday. That deal fell through amid a public backlash. Currie met Thursday with Washington State coach Mike Leach.

Reports linked Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm to Tennessee’s vacancy, but both stayed put. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren agreed to a new contract Thursday after speaking with Tennessee.

Fulmer, a former Volunteers and Hall of Fame coach, led Tennessee to the 1998 national title.

The following is a news release from UT:

KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Chancellor Beverly Davenport announced the appointment of Phillip Fulmer as acting director of athletics on Friday.

"Phillip Fulmer will begin serving as athletic director effective immediately," Davenport said. "I have taken these steps in the best interest of the university."

"I am confident that Phillip understands the need to support our student-athletes and our commitment to excellence in all athletic programs. I appreciate his willingness to serve during this critical time."

"No one better understands the storied history of Vol athletics and its deep connection to alumni and fans, and I believe he will be a unifying presence for all of us committed to the university's success."

A former Tennessee football student-athlete, assistant coach and national-championship-winning head coach who has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to UT, Fulmer will now lead the continued search for a new head football coach.

Fulmer is the second-winningest coach in Tennessee football history, compiling a 152-52 career record in 17 seasons at the helm of the program.

He led the Vols to the BCS National Championship in 1998 and SEC titles in 1997 and 1998. He was named SEC Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year in 1998.

A 1972 Tennessee graduate, he starred on the offensive line during his playing career, serving as team captain as a senior. The Vols finished 30-5, and won an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl during his playing career from 1969-71.

He returned as an assistant coach in 1980 before being named head coach in 1992.

In 2012, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Tennessee has scheduled an afternoon news conference and is expected to provide an update on its tumultuous, embarrassing search for a football coach.

The news conference Friday will be led by Chancellor Beverly Davenport, not athletic director John Currie, who has been forced out according to multiple reports.

Tennessee fired Butch Jones last month and was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday. That deal fell through amid a public backlash. Currie met Thursday with Washington State coach Mike Leach in Los Angeles and flew back to Knoxville early Friday morning, according to people familiar with the meeting. Leach was the latest in a long list of candidates connected to Tennessee over the last week.

Reports linked Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm to Tennessee’s vacancy, but both stayed put. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren agreed to a new contract Thursday after speaking with Tennessee officials.

Tennessee is conducting this search after possibly the most disappointing season in school history.

After being ranked in the Top 25 at the start of the year, Tennessee went 4-8 to set a school record for losses. The Vols were winless in Southeastern Conference competition for the first time since the league formed in 1933.

The public nature of Tennessee’s inability to find a coach frustrated a fan base already angry about the Vols’ poor 2017 season. People chanted “Fire Currie” on a handful of occasions Monday night during a wrestling show on campus and again Wednesday night during the Tennessee men’s basketball team’s victory over Mercer.

Currie just took over as Tennessee’s athletic director in April after Dave Hart stepped down. Currie agreed to a five-year contract worth at least $900,000 annually. According to terms of Currie’s contract, the school would owe him $5.5 million if he is fired now without cause.

At his introductory news conference , Currie boldly said that Tennessee “can and should be the very best athletics program in the country.”

Currie’s familiarity with Tennessee was seen as a selling point when he got hired. Before coming to Kansas State, he worked at Tennessee for about a decade in various capacities, most recently as a chief deputy and adviser to former athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Hamilton forced out longtime football coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008. This marks Tennessee’s fourth coaching search since Fulmer’s exit.

Fulmer had publicly expressed his interest in the athletic director position, but Currie was chosen as Hart’s replacement instead.

Tennessee announced in June that Fulmer had been named a special adviser for community, athletics and university relations. The part-time position pays Fulmer $100,000 annually and was seen as a way to unite a fan base divided over whether Fulmer should have been chosen as athletic director.

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