Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer has taken over as the school’s athletic director as it seeks a new football coach to stabilize a program thrown into tumult by a challenging search.
Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport announced Fulmer’s appointment Friday. Sources told ESPN that Fulmer will get a two-year contract.
Tennessee turned to Fulmer, a Hall of Fame coach, after removing John Currie from the AD role earlier Friday. The Volunteers placed Currie on paid leave after a meeting between him and school officials, including Davenport.
The chancellor said at a news conference that Fulmer will be Tennessee’s athletic director “for the foreseeable future” and “take the reins of our search.” In the meantime, the school is investigating whether it can fire Currie for cause.
From Rocky Top to rock bottom: Inside Tennessee’s disastrous three weeks
Everything in between the firing of Butch Jones and AD John Currie’s own ouster has made this coaching search infamous. And Tennessee still doesn’t even have a coach.
“I think with the background that I have here, and as well as we’ve done at different times here, with the facilities and leadership we have here, I definitely think there will be people that will be interested,” Fulmer said at the news conference.
Currie had been leading a troubled search for a new football coach. Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday, but the deal fell through due to backlash from fans and supporters. Currie had also courted Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, NC State’s Dave Doeren, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, new Florida coach Dan Mullen and Washington State’s Mike Leach.
The Volunteers are looking for their fifth football coach in the past 11 years after possibly the most disappointing season in school history.
After being ranked in the Top 25 at the start of the season, Tennessee went 4-8 to set a school record for losses. The Vols were winless in the SEC for the first time since the league formed in 1933.
“Our football program has the history, the facilities, the tradition and the resources to play with anyone any time, and that’s what we’re going to do again,” Fulmer said.
The public nature of Tennessee’s inability to find a coach frustrated a fan base already angry about the Vols’ poor 2017 season. People chanted “Fire Currie” on a handful of occasions Monday night during a wrestling show on campus, and again Wednesday night during the Tennessee men’s basketball victory over Mercer.
Currie took over as Tennessee’s athletic director in April and had agreed to a five-year contract worth at least $900,000 annually. According to the terms of Currie’s contract, the school would owe him $5.5 million if he is fired without cause.
Fulmer coached the Volunteers from 1992 to 2008, going 152-52 overall and leading Tennessee to the 1998 national title.
Tennessee announced in June that Fulmer had been named a special adviser for community, athletics and university relations. The part-time position paid Fulmer $100,000 annually and was seen as a way to unite a fan base divided over whether he should have been chosen as athletic director when Currie was hired.
Davenport said her decision wasn’t related to a single coaching candidate and was due to a “series of events” rather than a single tipping point.
“It has indeed been a difficult week,” Davenport said. “It’s been a difficult road to get to where we are. This has not been an easy process for any of us. I want you to know that I regret deeply any hurt that’s been caused.”
Fulmer ruled out the possibility of returning to coaching by appointing himself as Jones’ replacement, but he believes his experience can help him choose an ideal candidate.
“I hope to be a stabilizing and unifying force through this just because we do have some gray hair and a lot of experience at this place,” Fulmer said. “Sometimes it’s when you’re younger that you’ve screwed it up so bad that you figure it out later and you don’t make the same mistakes again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.