JOHNSON CITY — In Big Orange Country, it was Phillip Fulmer’s day.
The morning announcement of the former Tennessee football coach’s firstballot induction into the College Football Hall of Fame was “well-deserved” according to the man who occupies the head coaching role today.
“Anytime you can get in that quick after coaching, it ought to tell you what kind of job he did,” current Vols coach Derek Dooley said Tuesday. “It was welldeserved.
I know all of the Tennessee fans are proud for him and it’s the highest honor you can get as a player and as a coach and kudos to him.”
Dooley lauded Fulmer’s accomplishments during a visit to the area Tuesday as part of the annual Big Orange Caravan at Muncey United Methodist Church. The coach joined new Tennessee women’s basketball coach Holly Warlick, men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and athletic director Dave Hart in the special appearance promoting the athletic programs at the school.
As far as football is concerned, arguably nobody in the last 40 years have had as big an influence as Fulmer, who won a national championship and a pair of SEC titles on top of an impressive 152-52 winloss
“We stay in touch,” Dooley said. “He was the first person I called when I got the job. I have a lot of respect for him and you take the last 30 years, it’s been Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors. That’s what Tennessee football was for me as a child.
“You look at the run he had in the ’90s, there’s not many people who’s coached college football that had a run like that. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I believe he bleeds orange. I know he loves Tennessee. I’d be a fool not to reach out to him.”
Hart learned of the honor during a lunch with the coach “a couple of Fridays ago” and helped get behind the coach’s candidacy in the months prior.
“I have had lunch with him and talked to Phillip a number of times and spent a couple of hours with him out at his office,” Hart said. “We’ve been in contact and did what we could, from our perspective, to assist. I don’t think he needed a lot of assistance, but we did what we could do months ago on his behalf and he recognized and expressed his appreciation for that, but it didn’t have anything to do with the deserving honor he received.”
Dooley spoke with Fulmer Monday, but didn’t have an idea of the induction.
“Ironically, I spoke with him yesterday and had just a great, normal conversation with no real objective other than to just touch base with him,” Dooley said. “This was before I knew it. He probably thought I was calling to congratulate him but I didn’t know the news, so I’m going to reach back out to him.”
Hart, who was athletic director at Florida State when Tennessee defeated the Seminoles for Fulmer’s lone National Championship, tried to hire Fulmer in the early nineties for the head football vacancy at East Carolina when he was athletic director at the school. He said he “absolutely” wants the former coach to have a presence around the program.
“That’s what I’ve stressed to him,” Hart said. “I’ve known Phillip a long time. I interviewed him and tried to hire him at East Carolina and we had a good laugh about that because I knew, I said, ‘Phillip, if you come to East Carolina, I’ll be doing this search next year.’ And sure enough that next year he was named head coach at Tennessee.”
< Warlick fitting into new role Holly Warlick was at Pat Summitt’s side for the biggest highlights of her Hall of Fame coaching career.
Now, after a year in the driver’s seat alongside her predecessor, the longtime assistant and standout Lady Vol has begun the process of filling the role of Summitt full-time since being named Tennessee’s women’s basketball head coach last month.
“I think it was a tough, tough year especially when Pat made her announcement,” Warlick said. “But our kids, I thought, handled it very well. Pat asked me to step into a different role and I always tell people, ‘I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m an assistant coach and if the head coach asks you to do it, you do it.’” A player or assistant for 922 of Summitt’s 1,071, Warlick now looks to replicate the success on the court this season, and has Summitt’s full support after the symbolic placement of the practice whistle.
“Pat and I have talked about it. I wanted to be here, but obviously not under the circumstances,” Warlick said. “I think she wanted to make sure I was here and everything went smoothly. I wanted to make sure that she was still here and Dave Hart and the administrative staff were tremendous in making that happen.
“It is a tough situation for me, but it’s exciting as well. Through all of this process, I’d say, ‘Pat, how are you doing?’ And she’d say, ‘I’m going to be fine, you need to be happy!’ I’d say, ‘I am happy.’ She’d say, ‘You need to get happy real quick.’ So I got happy real quick.”