So, what's next for the outgoing coach?
“If a great opportunity came up that I really felt good about, certainly I would look at that,” he said this week.
Since announcing his resignation on Nov. 3, Phillip Fulmer has been seeking input from some fellow coaches who were forced to step aside. He spoke with former UT coaches Doug Dickey (forced out after an ill-fated stint at Florida) and Bill Battle (who resigned under pressure as Vol head man in 1976. Fulmer also spoke with good friend Lloyd Carr, who was ousted at Michigan one year ago.
“I've talked to a lot of people ... that have been down this road,” Fulmer said. “They all encourage you, 'Don't do anything too fast. Don't do anything out of anger.' I'm not going to do that. I'm going to reflect.”
Despite a 35-year association with UT, Fulmer is unlikely to remain at his alma mater in an administrative capacity. He's much more likely to find a job that will keep a whistle around his neck awhile longer.
“Those fires still burn real deep to coach,” he said. “But, at the same time my family's paid a dear price for a long time. I may just sit and think about it for a little while – as to what I want to do.”
After briefly discussing his future, Fulmer abruptly returned to the present.
“That right now is not my concern,” he said of his job search. “My concern is these two ball games (at Vanderbilt, vs. Kentucky) and this football team and getting ourselves ready to play our best and win two games.”
One reporter asked Fulmer how he will react to life after football, since the game is “all you've done and all you know.” The coach paused thoughtfully, then flashed a smug grin.
“That's all I've done,” he deadpanned. “That's probably not all I know.”
It's difficult for most observers to imagine Fulmer in a job that doesn't involve coaching. The outgoing head man says it isn't that difficult for him to imagine.
“I've used the phrase 'Coaching is what I do, it's not who I am.' I think there's a lot of things I can do,” he said. “I'm going to take some time and reflect and try to figure that out.”
Fulmer said fans and friends have showed support by showering him with “tons of phone calls, emails, cards and letters, and I appreciate every one of them.” The coach said he is hoping to reply to these but added, “I'm not spending any less time preparing this football team, and I won't.”
Even in his final days as Tennessee's head man, Fulmer is determined to focus on the task at hand and nothing else.
“What I'm interested in these next two weeks is this team,” he told a group of reporters earlier this week. “Then you're going to have to really look for me after the game.”