If the folks at East Tennessee State University have their way, Phillip Fulmer would be the school’s new football coach.
Richard Sander, ETSU’s interim athletic director, said Tuesday that Fulmer, the former head coach at Tennessee, would be his first choice to run the fledgling program.
“If you can get Phil Fulmer to coach your team, with that kind of success, that kind of image and credibility and just an impeccable reputation, you couldn’t draw up a better scenario,” Sander said. “I’m not sure he’s thinking about that right now. I don’t want to speak for Coach Fulmer. To be honest, that would be just great, but I’m not sure Coach Fulmer is in that mindset right now.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I can even figure that one out.”
Fulmer, 62, was on campus on Friday, meeting with Sander and other ETSU officials about the possible return of football to the school, which dropped the sport in 2003.
“We were just talking to Coach Fulmer some about if there was potential for him to help us on down the road as we move forward if and when this football thing happens, would there be any potential for him to help us in some capacity,” Sander said. “To gauge his interest. He told me he would give us some basic thoughts about some things.
“When you have a chance to talk to somebody that’s won a national championship, is in the Hall of Fame, probably as revered as any football coach in the South, you’ve got to talk to him and just really value everything he says.”
Fulmer was the head coach at Tennessee from 1992-2008, amassing a record of 152-52 and winning six Southeastern Conference East Division titles. He was the 1998 national coach of the year after the Vols won the national championship in the first year of the Bowl Championship Series.
ETSU is awaiting word from the Tennessee Board of Regents on whether the school’s fee increase for football will be approved. The university’s Student Government Association passed a fee of $125 per student per semester in January.
The board’s Finance and Business Operations Committee was supposed to meet Tuesday, but a scheduling conflict forced the meeting to be postponed. If the committee passes the increase, it will go to the entire board for a vote.
“Hopefully down the road, if we get a decision here in the next little bit of time, we can revisit with Coach Fulmer and hopefully get him involved in some way,” Sander said.
When it was mentioned how the possibility of Fulmer coaching the new Bucs has been the talk of the town among ETSU’s fan base, Sander said “We can all dream.”
If the Board of Regents vote goes ETSU’s way, Sander said things will begin to happen in a hurry.
“If and when we start football, we clearly need a conference for that,” he said. “We want to, for everybody’s best interest, to move as quickly as possible. I’ve been in conferences where people are lame ducks and that’s not good. There’s a new energy, a new excitement about going into a new conference. I think the fan base gets reenergized. I think the coaching staff gets reenergized.
“We will try to move quickly, but make sure we have done all the background and research to make the right decision because it is a big decision.”
Sander has been in contact with several conferences, including the Ohio Valley Conference, Southern Conference, Atlantic 10 Conference and Colonial Athletic Association. The A-10 doesn’t sponsor football, but several members play the sport in other conferences.
ETSU has been in the OVC and SoCon in the past.
“We’ve talked to both of them,” Sander said. “They both feel ETSU would be a good member. But one thing people need to understand is conference commissioners can be very supportive of you, but they’re not dictators. The members have to kind of move things forward. As anything, trying to get 10 or 12 people or universities to come together and agree on anything is sometimes difficult. The good thing is the job ETSU has done over the years in building facilities and investing in programs, with a dynamic young president who is certainly moving the university forward. Those are all positives.”
When ETSU dropped football, it was forced out of the SoCon and had to find a home. That’s when it landed in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which is losing more and more members as they begin football programs.
“The Atlantic Sun has certainly been very positive,” Sander said. “We’ve talked to (A-Sun Commissioner) Ted Gumbart, and he understands our situation. We’ve been forthcoming with him, telling him football is a huge issue for us and as we move forward with football, we’re going to have to find a home.”