As the University of Tennessee looks to find a replacement for retiring athletic director Dave Hart, much of the news coming out of Knoxville recently has focused on former Volunteer head football coach Phillip Fulmer. Some reports have even suggested that Fulmer becoming the next Tennessee AD was “all but done”.
The university itself has remained silent on the various reports.
Should Tennessee decide to hire Fulmer as the athletic director, the move would hardly be the first of its kind, but it would be a move that has become less and less prominent as the role of the athletic director has expanded. A majority of today’s athletic director’s have spent their careers in administration gaining valuable experience learning and understanding the inner workings of collegiate athletics. Other’s may have been coaches but had some experience as a senior level athletic director before being promoted.
That’s not to say administrative experience is a must. A handful of coaches have had success jumping from the sideline or dugout to running an entire athletic department.
Ray Tanner, won two national championships at South Carolina before being named the Gamecocks athletic director in 2012. Wisconsin’s AD Barry Alvarez briefly pulled double-duty, serving as both head football coach and athletic director from 2004-2005, before retiring from football at the end of the 2005 season. Most recently, Mississippi State hired former baseball coach John Cohen to replace Scott Stricklin.
Fulmer, who played at Tennessee, was the Vols head coach from 1992-2008 and won a national championship in 1998 seems to have an immense backing from the Tennessee fan base. But is that backing enough to successfully run a Power Five athletic department?
Since stepping down from his coaching post in 2008, Fulmer has stayed involved with the Volunteer athletic department. He has also spent the past several years serving as a consultant and special assistant to East Tennessee State and athletic director Dr. Richard Sander as Sander relaunched the ETSU football program. According to Sander “Coach Fulmer did an incredible job for us at ETSU in helping us restart football. It was easy to see why he was a Hall of Fame coach as he is a great leader who has a unique talent to get everyone headed down the same path and buy into a vision.”
While the experience gained from advising ETSU and fundraising Fulmer has done will somewhat help prepare Fulmer should he become Tennessee’s next athletic director he would be wise to seek advice and counsel from not only others inside and out the Volunteer family but specifically Tanner, Alvarez, and Cohen.
Fulmer would instantly become responsible for hundreds of Tennessee student-athletes, coaches, and staff. He would also be responsible for keeping Volunteer athletics financially in black after current AD Dave Hart turned the department’s finances around.
In short, running an entire athletic department is much different from running a football team. While the experience of leading an SEC football program will help, nothing will make up for the lack of administrative experience.
While no one is truly sure of how the Tennessee search will turn out and when a hire will be made, if Fulmer is chosen, Dr. Sander has an idea why . “I know that he has a great love for UT and it was so impressive to see how he engaged the public. I was amazed at how people throughout the state responded to him but more impressively how he connected with everyone.”
Cody Junot joined College AD in November, 2014 as a contributing writer and was shortly promoted to Associate Editor in July, 2015. Cody graduated from UL Lafayette in 2011 with a degree in Sports Management.