Fulmer Trying To Focus On Last Game As Vols' Coach
Nov. 25, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Phillip Fulmer has had plenty of time to dwell on the end of his time at Tennessee.
Now, with one game left, all he wants to think about is playing Kentucky.
"I told some good friends it's been like a three-week long funeral in some ways," he said. "I don't think I would encourage any athletic director to do it that way. That's made it tough on everybody."
Fulmer announced Nov. 3 that he would be forced out as coach when the season concluded. Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said the announcement gave fans a chance to honor him in the Vols' final three games.
Saturday night's season finale against the Wildcats will be dubbed "Phillip Fulmer Appreciation Day" at Neyland Stadium, a celebration of Fulmer's 17-year tenure that included a national championship and two Southeastern Conference titles.
Fulmer has fielded phone calls, e-mails, written notes and personal visits from friends and fans offering their support. A woman he didn't know tearfully hugged him as he stepped off the team bus before the Vols' 20-10 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
"Obviously we could go on and on about this. The most important thing is this football game coming up for these guys," he said. "We're going to concentrate on this game and this team and try to get one more win out of this thing, and then we'll have lots of time to reflect, perhaps."
Fulmer hasn't been the only one asked to reflect on the end of his time with Tennessee.
After more than two decades with Tennessee as a player, assistant coach and defensive coordinator, John Chavis acknowledged it may be his last time coaching the Vols.
The defensive guru known as "The Chief" has had numerous opportunities to coach elsewhere but said Tennessee was where he wanted to be and Fulmer was who he wanted to work for.
"Twenty-six years ... and I've never, ever regretted a moment of it," Chavis said with tears streaming down his face. "I don't want to think about it, but (Saturday) could be the last time I walk into that stadium."
Certainly, Fulmer has some things to worry about with Kentucky (6-5, 2-5 SEC).
For one thing, Tennessee has the Football Bowl Subdivision's longest active winning streak over another team to uphold. The Vols (4-7, 2-5) are going for their 24th straight win over the Wildcats in the annual rivalry.
Then there's the quarterback quandary - something that's played as much of a role in Tennessee's woeful season as anything. After having five different players take snaps this season, Fulmer's not sure who will start behind center on Saturday.
"This by far is the most challenging quarterback situation that we've had," Fulmer said. "Even in '05 there was some concerns and inconsistencies but nothing like what we've faced this year."
The Vols rotated between two quarterbacks in 2005 en route to a 5-6 finish, Fulmer's only other losing season.
Fulmer has only hinted at what lies ahead for him.
He's talked about taking time to reflect and spend time with family, which now includes an infant grandson. He's suggested he might write a book and hinted that he'll be open to future coaching opportunities.
But there is one thing he won't do.
"A good friend of mine told me, and it's true, bitterness or resentment is like taking poison and expecting somebody else to die," he said. "I'm not going to live that way. I just choose not to.
"Certainly I do think if we'd been given the opportunity then we would have turned it around and gotten to where we want to be. I believe that with all my heart."