“I love Tennessee too much leave her divided.” – Phillip Fulmer at his firing press conference Nov. 3, 2008
On a day dripping with irony — in a week that seems like a year — new Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer is tasked with helping Tennessee return to championship levels.
Ironically, exactly 9 years ago after the Fulmer era officially came to an end, the Hall of Fame coach sat before a mob of media with one simple message. Unity.
"We need energy, passion and focus from every Vol fan, alumni, coach and athlete,” Fulmer said.
“Let's be so unified and enthusiastic we even win over the naysayers. I'm asking all of our fans, our alumni, our student-athletes and coaches: Let's go have some fun winning championships."
For the first time in a week, the Tennessee fanbase has something to be happy about. After days of being the butt of jokes, after being criticized nationally and being embarrassed, the Vols have something to smile about.
Over the coming days, there will be plenty said and written about what happened this week. Some of it will likely never be known. There's likely more negative news to come out.
But Friday afternoon in front of a packed in house, Tennessee fans were all smiles.
They have one of their favorite sons back in power. Tennessee is a unique place with it's own set of challenges. When it's been at it's best, it's been run by Tennessee people.
"I have seen and been a part of the University of Tennessee's athletics program when it's been at its best,” Fulmer said.
“I have seen what honest communication, trust and hard work achieve. It is my mission to lead our entire athletic department in a way that honors our university's legacy and insists on excellence.”
With smiles all around, relief from some, excitement from others saying, “We are putting the band back together" — Fulmer gets no transition period. He has the biggest task of any athletic director in the country.
He has to find a football coach on the heels of a Sunday rebellion that ended the hiring of Greg Schiano and a week of public turndowns.
A great challenge.
"It will not be easy, and it will take some time, but we will succeed,” Fulmer said.
“We first must find us a coach who wants to be at Tennessee, who appreciates the unique opportunity that we have to offer at this very special place at this historical time and who is driven to win at the highest level of college football; the kind of head coach who will honor our University's values, will be proud to represent our state and be a role model for our student-athletes.”
At the end of the day after this long week, for Tennessee's fans pride is something they crave.
It's something they got from the guy that has given them their most pride and a guy they appreciate a lot more now than they did 9 years ago.