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May 15, 2012
Family helps Fulmer make the Hall of Fame
Four years later, the office may have changed, but the memories lining the walls of past accomplishments haven't. Framed pictures and portraits, signed footballs and even a framed Kenny Chesney record can be found inside Phillip Fulmer's office. The longtime Tennessee player and coach was announced as a member of the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame class.
"It's obviously the biggest accomplishment that you can have in the coaching world," Fulmer said. "To be recognized by your peers and the powers that be that your one of the best. There are 4.6 million people that I read in a release that (NFF) sent that have either played or coached in football and there is less than 1000 people that have been chose for this so you are talking about less than one percent. That's great company and I was thrilled with that."
Among all of the memorabilia inside his southwest Knoxville office were pictures of his family. Children and grandchildren were in attendance as Fulmer met with a half dozen reporters and he was quick to point out the sacrifice his family made during his coaching career.
"It was never a job from our standpoint," Fulmer said. "It was a lifestyle that we certainly enjoyed. I'm grateful to them for allowing me to do that."
Fulmer touched countless lives during his time on Rocky Top and there were several that touched his including former Tennessee President Joe Johnson and former Athletic Director Doug Dickey.
"We had an unbelievable group of people in my time at UT that were friends," Fulmer said. "They were great workers and extremely loyal to me and the program and I appreciate what they did. Countless players that chose to come to Tennessee and trusted us to do well for them. It would be an injustice to start naming names because there were so many. They had a chance to be part of the best era in Tennessee's modern football history and they had to have left proud of that."
Former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis can recall countless stories during his time with Fulmer. Chavis was promoted from position coach to coordinator by Fulmer in 1995 and was a part of a 45-5 run in the 1990's.
"We did it the right way," Chavis said. "That's who Phillip was and that's how he did things. He put the kids first because the kids are the university. He set an example to the staff that we were there to serve those kids. He did it as well as anyone could have done it."
With a 152-52 record, it's easy to see why Fulmer was a first ballot inductee. He's spent most of his time with his family since he exited Tennessee after the 2008 season, but he's also reconnected with former players.
"It's very gratifying," Fulmer said. "Your phone lights up last night when I guess it got out there that it might happen. It's a great class of people and it's a group that we will be grouped with for the rest of our lives. The coaching fraternity is very small. That's been really special to hear from (former players). To get a chance talk to some of them or text and email. That's been really special to catch up and that's one of the fun things about being out of coaching. You have time to reconnect with people."
Fulmer was a players coach. It's what made him such a great recruiter. He was able to sell to parents a family atmosphere that would look after each players best interest both on and off the field. He recalled one moment that left him very emotional on Senior Day in 1987.
"When we ran through the T with Harry Galbreath and John Bruhin," Fulmer said. "It took me a quarter to get my emotions back in check. That's how close you get to some of them. That's what was special about the time we were there. David Cutcllffe, John Chavis, Dan Brooks and countless others loved those kids. They made it an environment that was very special and in return we often got their very very best that led to a great era of football."
One player that will never forget Fulmer's impact is former offensive lineman Antone Davis. The two became close while Davis anchored the Vol offensive line in the late 80's and early 90's.
"Coach Fulmer was really like a father figure to me," Davis said. "People always use the phrase 'they taught me everything I know' loosely, but he really he did. I was more of a defensive guy in high school, but he showed me how to become a true offensive lineman. He taught me how to be a man and the lessons he taught me I've used throughout my life after I left Tennessee. That's the part that people miss because a lot of us have longterm memory loss. He's impacted so many people and he truly created a winning environment."
Reaction came strong in support of Fulmer's appointment to the Hall. Social media blew up with congratulations from former players and fans. Former Vol Eric Berry was more than happy to discuss his time playing for Fulmer.
"I'm honored to say I played for a great coach, but an even better man," Berry said. "It's always good to play for a coach that genuinely cares about his players. He already had the respect of his team because of his many accomplishments but I think the love he showed as a person made us as players respect him more."
At 61 years of age, Fulmer goes into the Hall as a younger member from the coaching fraternity. He says he'll always be a Tennessee fan and will continue to watch as the Vols work to climb back to the top of the college football mountain. This achievement isn't about Phillip Fulmer. He believes the credit for this award can be attributed to the numerous Volunteers that worked day in and day out to make Tennessee such a special place during his legendary walk on the Vol sidelines.
"I was the leader," Fulmer said. "I got more credit than I deserved and probably more blame at times I'm sure, but we did it as a team. If it wasn't for the Joe Johnson's and Doug Dickey's and all those staff members and support staff then at some point it wouldn't have worked. We were absolutely on the same page from top to bottom. There was not a day that we didn't go by that somebody unheralded was doing something special for the program. That's how you are successful."
And successful sums up a coach that many Vol fans appreciate more and more with each passing day.