It’s been nearly five years since it was announced that Phillip Fulmer was being dismissed as Tennessee’ head coach at the end of the 2008 season. Tuesday, Fulmer was back around the football team with which he had spent his collegiate playing career and logged an additional 31 years as a coach.
At the request of current head coach Butch Jones, Fulmer attended a Vols practice for the first time since his firing in early November of 2008 (he finished out that season before stepping aside). In addition to attending practice, and again at the request of Jones, Fulmer spoke to the team during his return.
While Fulmer did not speak to the media afterwards, UT did send out a quote from the coach in a release.
“It was a little emotional, being the first time back,’’ Fulmer said. “I’m glad to be here. As I told them, any way I can help.”
Oddly enough, Fulmer’s return comes a couple of days after one of his former players, Arian Foster, claimed that he had taken impermissible benefits in the form of cash during his time as a Vols running back. Fulmer claimed he was unaware of any illicit activity on the part of his players and that the football program was NCAA compliant during his time as coach.
While his name has been attached to numerous openings, high-profile and otherwise, Fulmer has not coached a game since his dismissal. He is currently a consultant and special assistant to the athletic director at East Tennessee State, which is restarting a football program that was disbanded in 2003.
Fulmer’s 152 wins in 17 seasons as UT’s head coach is second in school history behind the legendary Robert Neyland. The Vols went 39-24 and claimed at least a share of three SEC East title his last five seasons in Knoxville; in less than five full seasons since his firing, the Vols, under Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and now Jones, have gone 25-29 and finished T-2nd, T-3rd, 6th and 6th in their own division from 2009-12.