KNOXVILLE – Former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer is getting back into football, but not as a head coach.
After a five-year hiatus from direct involvement with a program, Fulmer has been named the Special Assistant to the Athletic Director for Football at East Tennessee State University, the school announced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon in Johnson City.
“When you have a chance to use the knowledge and skill of a Hall of Fame coach who has won a national championship and is revered as one of the truly great coaches in college football, you have to jump on that opportunity,” ETSU athletic director Richard Sander said via a release. “Phil Fulmer will make a huge contribution to the success of ETSU football.”
ETSU hopes to relaunch its program by the fall of 2015 after cutting it in 2003 due to revenue shortfalls and budget cuts. The school recently increased student fees in anticipation of the move. Previously, the Buccaneers had fielded a team every year since 1920.
The Bucs have an all-time record of 342-403-26 along with a 4-2 mark in the postseason. Their most notable season came in 1969 when the 10-0-1 Bucs defeated Louisiana Tech, and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, in the Grantland Rice Bowl. Though no official announcement has been made, ETSU is a candidate to join UTC in the Southern Conference after the recent departures of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
“Football is an American tradition,” ETSU president Brian Noland said. “It builds school spirit, it builds school pride, and it builds engagement – engagement with our students, with our community, and with our alumni.
“Conversations about the presence of football at ETSU have been taking place for more than a decade. These conversations have put people on opposite sides of the table. It was one of the first questions I was asked when I interviewed for this job, and I have been talking about football on a daily basis ever since. The time has come to move these conversations forward.”
Though specifics of Fulmer’s day-to-day role weren’t given, the former UT coach gives a credible name and reputation to a program looking for a new identity. In 17 seasons at UT, Fulmer had a 152-52 record, won two SEC titles and a national championship in 1998.
Eighteen players earned All-American honors under Fulmer and 92 of his former players went on to make an NFL roster. The former UT offensive lineman (1968-71) has spent time in broadcasting, public speaking and private business since ending his tenure in Knoxville.
“I am extremely impressed with Dr. Noland's passion to build upon and enhance the culture of excellence at ETSU,” Fulmer said on Tuesday. “Dr. Noland and Dr. Sander both believe and understand that sports, and in this case football, is important to both the students and the alumni of a university. It can help them enjoy and enhance the college experience, as well as stay connected for years to come.”
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga