Football Royalty – Southern Standard
He played for the University of Tennessee, led the Vols to a national championship as a coach, and served as the school’s athletic director.
Phillip Fulmer has quite a list of UT athletic accomplishments.
Fulmer was the featured guest Thursday night at the annual Boyd Banquet held this year at the Bridgestone Learning Center.
Fulmer was interviewed at the banquet by famed talk show host Jonathan Hutton, a 2002 Warren County High School graduate who is making a name for himself through his sports commentary.
Fulmer told a number of entertaining stories during their in-depth conversation. Here are some highlights.
Fulmer said his knee was bothering him, so he brought a cane to practice one day to help him get around. This was during the 1998 national championship season.
“The players noticed it right away,” Fulmer said. “And someone said I looked like Moses.”
Fulmer said he immediately started wondering how he could turn things around.
“I took it through the coaches that night and said here’s what I wanted to do,” Fulmer said. “Moses led his people to the promised land, so I want to tell them to follow me, follow their coaches, and we will lead them to the promised land. I introduced him to the team the next day and they completely bought. This walking stick became our synergy stick and we took it everywhere. We rallied around it. This stick was the first thing on the bus and the players just loved it.
TALK ABOUT THE GAS STATION
As a coach of the Tennessee Flights, Fulmer was generally well recognized around Knoxville. However, a UT fan didn’t recognize him as they were pumping gas after a game on a Sunday.
“We had lost the day before and I was on my way to my TV show when I stopped to refuel,” Fulmer said. “A guy asked me what I thought of the UT game and I told him the usual stuff. I said the team could have done a better job protecting the ball and could have done a better job of execution, just regular stuff like that.
Fulmer said the fan had their own take on the game.
“He told me that until they get rid of this Fulmer, they’ll never have a team.”
Fulmer made an appearance on “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock and said he was surprised at how many people remember him for the role.
“I’ll be on a plane and see a guy looking at me and he’ll remember me on ‘The Blind Side,'” Fulmer said. “I spent 40 years in coaching and I spent four minutes in a movie and they remember the movie.”
Fulmer said Sandra Bullock was great to work with and made a joke about the film.
“I just hate that they cut the love scene between us,” said Fulmer, who pointed out he was only joking.
Fulmer was drafted by Alabama and he said many people didn’t know he had accepted an offer to play for legendary coach Bear Bryant. A native of Winchester, Tennessee, Fulmer said he had a change of heart when he watched coach Doug Dickey lead the Vols to a win over the Crimson Tide in his freshman year in high school.
“I tried to get my dad to tell Coach Bryant, but he didn’t,” Fulmer said. He said Coach Bryant laughed at him when he made the phone call to say he would play for UT. As a reason for not coming to Alabama, Fulmer told Bear Bryant that he feared retiring from coaching before his four years were up.
“He said you would never beat us, boy,” Fulmer recalled.
Bear Bryant remembered Fulmer’s reason years later. Fulmer said he finished his playing days and bounced around several different schools as an assistant coach before returning to UT as an offensive line coach. During a game against Alabama, Coach Bryant approached him during pregame warmups.
“He said, ‘I haven’t retired yet, boy’ and he left.”
PEYTON MANNING RECRUITMENT
“Peyton loved the fact that we had Heath Shuler and we were throwing the ball more,” Fulmer said. “And he really liked that we were all younger coaches, more progressive coaches.”
Hutton asked Fulmer about a rumor that he had fallen asleep on the couch during his recruiting trip to the Mannings’ home.
“It was Archie who fell asleep,” said Fulmer, who also confirmed he would help in the kitchen on those recruiting trips.
“I would help with the dishes,” Fulmer said. “It has always impressed mums.”
THE RIVALY WITH SPURRIER
“Everyone thinks Spurrier and I are bitter enemies, but we’re actually good friends,” Fulmer said of former Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
“One of the games I remember the most was when we beat Florida as underdogs by 18 points. Spurrier went to Washington to coach in the NFL after that season. I tell everyone that we were the team that kicked him out of college football.
“I never thought I would become a coach,” Fulmer said. “I never thought about it. I had interviewed at Proctor & Gamble and passed all their tests when a friend asked if I was interested in becoming an assistant coach.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I loved it,” Fulmer said. “I loved the teamwork. I loved the framing. I liked everything.”
Fulmer said that over the course of the year he would develop four pillar characteristics that he wanted all of his players and coaches to embody.
“The first was communication and the second was trust,” Fulmer said. “The third was heat and that means you care about your teammates. You care about what happens to them. And the fourth was intensity.
PLAY FOR FLIGHTS
“I was a linebacker in high school and back then colleges only recruited the best athletes,” Fulmer said. “There were no 300-pound linemen. Growing up in Tennessee and playing for the Vols, I felt like it was the best thing I could do. And then they moved me to guard. I was a defensive player who had to play goalie. From my point of view, the offensive line was the last stop before the bus stop. If you couldn’t play on the offensive line, you couldn’t play anywhere.
Fulmer said he recruited Al Wilson as a safety and running back because the Vols wouldn’t have landed him otherwise. He said it didn’t take long for Wilson to realize he wasn’t a safety. He was supposed to play linebacker and he was a key cog in a defense that led UT to the 1998 national championship.
“With his body language and the speed and power he was playing with, I’ve never seen anyone impact a defense so much,” Fulmer said.