Part 1: Fulmer visits with Volquest.com
Phillip Fulmer has been on the job three weeks today. In 21 days, Fulmer has hired a football coach, he’s worked the recruiting trail and he’s doing all he can to handle Tennessee football until Jeremy Pruitt returns to Knoxville full time. Fulmer sat down with Vol quest.com to discuss in detail the search, his coach, as well as the direction of his athletic department.
Q: What was your reaction when Chancellor Davenport asked you to be the AD, were you surprised?
A: “Everyone was surprised, right? I was thrilled, excited and I’m looking forward to all the challenges that I thought were out there.”
Q: How much of a plan or an understanding did you have because you were involved in the job when John Currie was selected?
A: “A plan for what? A plan for hiring a coach? That is it’s own animal. Certainly from previously I had thought, though, what it would be like. How you would go about it. I’m not uncomfortable doing it. It wasn’t a shock to my system and I think that’s mostly because of the people that are here. Some that I worked with before and are very talented. And a group that’s relatively new to us here that are very talented. They have kept me between the guardrails and have made sure I haven’t gotten off the reservation in everything whether it’s Tom (Satkowiak) in the media. Jeannie (Lalik) in marketing. Rei in organization. We just really have a neat, strong group of people here. As time goes on, we will continue to build on the team.”
Q: From a structure standpoint be it an executive team, a cabinet, people do it different ways, do you have an idea in mind how you want to structure things?
A: “I’m trying to figure all of that out. I’m talking to different people about structure. Right now, I don’t care who gets the credit for anything as long as we get the coaches supported, our fans and alumni communicated with. I think we are doing pretty good. But pretty good is kind of the best of the worst and the worst of the best. We don’t settle for pretty good.”
Now that football is settled how much does your vision for the entire department start to clear up? Is that your focal point now?
“Well football is started. Let me say that. There is so much. I think it’s important that we educate. Let me say this, Jeremy is going to completely be himself, but we have so many historical things here and traditions and unique pluses and unique minuses that I can help him avoid the pitfalls and take a lot of things off him to let him do football and recruiting. So I think for a little more period of time here it’s going to be our building all of that. I told all the sports we will definitely get out there. I have been to basketball games and practices. I taled in passing with almost every coach. I want to see our tennis team play. I want to travel with our soccer team and see those things. I looking forward to all of that.”
What was it like running a football coaching search?
“It was like going out and getting a 5-star quarterback. It’s the same thing. Maybe a little more sense of urgency because the timeline was not what you would have liked for to have been. But we went through the ‘process’, that word that everyone likes to use out there today. We went through the process. We interviewed a lot of really good candidates on both sides of the ball, head coaches, coordinators. One of the things is that I was able to gain a lot of information about the people that we have to beat in this league because as you talk to them you ask them really tough questions about different things in their organization. They are pretty anxious to tell you how much they know. So that helped some in the process.
“One day, I think it was the third day, I said you know what ’I don’t think I have picked up a metal fork in three days. We were eating sandwiches on the plane or crackers. It’s like recruiting in the old days. We had five visits in a day a couple of times. Then we called those guys back. I had to be in New York. I wasn’t going to miss the New York time with Peyton. That’s historical. So we brought people to New York to talk to them and that was great because then the chancellor got to be involved. That was a real plus for the whole process as well.”
You have called coach Pruitt a “football coach”. What do you mean by that?
“That he’s not going to get caught up in the clutter. This interview we are doing is going to help us, but it’s not going to help him win. Recruiting is going to help him win. Coaching is going to help him win. Coaching his coaches to how he wants it done is going to help him win. Building relationships with his players and with the former players. That’s going to help him. My job and our job in the organization is to take as much of the clutter out of his world. Its not that he doesn’t want to do it. He’s very good at it. But right not it’s crucial that his focus is on what he needs it to be focused on – recruiting, coaching, getting his calendar like he needs it for the team. All those things that take a lot of time.”
“He cared a lot his player. Not that the other candidates didn’t. But it was his passion. He checked all the boxes that you wanted checked. And how I felt about things. We had a reasonable amount of success here based on how we did it. I wanted something that looked something like that. The pedigree that he has is incredible. Now, he knows this and I know this. The proof is in the pudding. Recruiting, coaching, development once they get here. The academic goals we all know are very important. The type of young men we bring in. All of those things and how they fit the system. We actually had to change direction a little bit on some recruiting based on where we were. In three days we had tripled our recruiting board with kids around the country that were interested in our program. That’s how you win.
In this conference, you better be good in the line of scrimmage. We are working on that.”