Legendary former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer was tapped to help start a new Buccaneer football program Tuesday.
“I talked to a number of people in the community,” Fulmer said. “All around Upper East Tennessee there’s a level of excitement about the possibilities that football can bring, not only to East Tennessee State but to the community itself.”
Fulmer, who was head coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteer football program from 1992 until 2008 and led that team to a national championship in 1998, will become a consultant to East Tennessee State University Interim Athletic Director Richard Sander as the two men work to establish a football program.
The announcement that Fulmer would help was made in the D.P. Culp University Center Ballroom on the third floor around 5 p.m. Tuesday. The room was packed with people anticipating the announcement.
“One of the important pieces of this was to have coach Fulmer be a part of this,” Sander said. “We’ve talked for a while now and now I think it’s kind of ‘full speed ahead.’ ”
ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said he has been asked almost every day about a possible return of football since he became president in January 2011.
“Today is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Noland said “Go Bucs!”
Fulmer’s contract is for four months but that could be extended.
According to the university, ETSU first fielded a football team in 1920, when it was a normal school. ETSU dropped the program in 2003 due to budget concerns.
Fulmer said ETSU President Brian Noland and others at the school show a true passion for starting a football team that people can enjoy, which is why he has put his name on the new program.
“It’s taken a lot of courage to bite this off, and I’m here because I’ve been assured that it’s going to be done the right way and it’s something that will make the people of Upper East Tennessee very proud,” Fulmer said.
As a young coach, Fulmer did everything, including painting the weight room at Witchita State University, he said.
“I know what, just the fight is, and it’s going to take an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm to get this done, and a lot of it involving the community,” Fulmer said. “It’s a big task, it’s not a little task, if you’re just trying to put a team on the field to show up, but I don’t think that’s what anybody’s got in mind. You want to compete at a nice level and offer entertainment for the community and excitement for the students and that’s going to take a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
Sander said the next step is to get very engaged with potential head coaches, and Fulmer will help with that through his contacts. A new coach could be selected by May.
“To have him helping us direct this program, I think, is incredibly important and I think it’s going to be so valuable to East Tennessee State University,” Sander said of Fulmer.
Sander added, “As we started to look at people we said: ‘Here is a guy almost in our backyard. The guy’s won a national championship and has recruited the best players but also very good people. He’s run a program with incredible integrity. Why don’t we call Phillip Fulmer and see if he’d be interested in doing that?’ ”
ETSU’s Student Government Association put forth a proposal back in January calling for a $125 fee per student per semester to fund football. The SGA passed that proposal, which was then taken before the Tennessee Board of Regents in late March for approval. TBR approved that fee Friday.
This fee was necessary to start a football program because it would generate about $2.5 million this next academic year for the program. Each year after that, the fee would provide about $2.8 million to support football. More money would be required, though, which will have to come from revenue from tickets, giving and more.
To that end, Sander also announced that well-known local car dealer Steve Grindstaff, who was a walk on player at ETSU, donated $50,000 to help start a Kickoff Fund to create a foundation to build the program.
“We’re going to do this fund for three years to create the start up dollars that we’re going to need to make this thing go,” Sander said. “We want to compete for championships. We want to compete for national championships. We don’t want to just go out there and have a team. We want to have a program that competes at the very highest level of the subdivision that we’d play in.”
ETSU released a pro forma a back in March that estimated it would take $4.9 million per year to field a football team. In that pro forma was an estimate for $500,000 per year beginning this year in recurring giving to the program.
“We think there’s people out there, we’re pretty sure, who will be willing to make some major gifts,” Sander said. “But I want to create a foundation for football based upon grass roots strength, so if we can get 2,000 people to give us $250, that’s a half million dollars.”
Sander pointed out there are around 1,100 or 1,200 alumni at ETSU who played football.
ETSU students will be paying $250 annually for football.
According to the school, the ETSU ticket office will immediately begin taking pre-orders for season tickets, which will require a $50 down payment per ticket. This ticket would guarantee a seat in the new stadium that is planned, but seating priority will be based on a points system determined by annual giving to the Buccaneer Athletic Scholarship Association. Visit ETSUBucs.com for more information.
More information regarding the stadium, conference affiliation and other football related announcements will be forthcoming, according to Noland
Sander said he hopes people enjoy this new team, which could be on the field by 2015.
“You hear the pros and cons and things, but that’s not what it’s about,” he said. “It’s enjoyable. It’s helping young people. It’s having a community rally together to enjoy a football game but also each other and be a part of something that’s really enjoyable and fun. I hope we can get past anything that keeps it from being that.”
Fulmer said he would assist as needed for as long as needed.
“I wouldn’t lend my name to this if I didn’t believe in the people who were doing it and I didn’t believe in the university and the fact that I think it’s really good for the Upper East Tennessee area,” he said.