Smiles were in abundance and fellowship flowed freely at Cleveland Country Club Monday afternoon at the annual Trousdale School Kick-off Before Tee-off luncheon featuring former Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer as keynote speaker.
Fulmer shook hands, signed autographs and posed for numerous photos during the event leading up to an afternoon of golf. Proceeds from the tournament help provide scholarships for students of the postsecondary day program which provides an environment that promotes maximum educational, physical, social and spiritual growth to high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities.
“I’m glad to be a part of it. I’ve been close to the Cleveland community for a long time. It’s a great event and I’m happy to be a part of this day,” Fulmer said amidst a gathered throng of friends, admirers and well-wishers.
Health Services president Tom Johnson, a former teammate of Fulmer at Tennessee and Trousdale benefactor, said the tournament helps provide needed funding for students who need tuition assistance.
“There are needs for scholarships for students. There are some that can’t quite afford the normal tuition. The golf tournament supports that. And people like Phillip, willing to give of their time and support, really help us raise some money for that,” said Johnson.
“We have about 30 day students. I think every one of our students at this point has part-time employment and then they are in class part time. The goal is to continue their education. The success for all of us is to continue to learn. If that opportunity is out there, these students are certainly taking advantage of it and I think others will too. It’s been an exciting program.”
The decision to accept the offer to speak at the pretournament luncheon was an easy one for Fulmer, who said his friendships in Cleveland make it a pleasure to return to the area whenever possible.
“Tom and I are friends. We were teammates longer than either one of us would really want to talk about at this point. I am well aware of the work he has done here. When he asked me it was easy to do,” he said. “I also have a great friendship with Brenda Lawson and she asked me as well. It’s a real blessing for this community to have a school like this that’s helping some special young people here in town.”
Fulmer — who has since gone into private business since leaving the sidelines of Neyland Stadium — is spending much of his time these days as a consultant for East Tennessee State University which is looking to reinstate a football program. He said he is enjoying helping bring football back to ETSU, but don’t look for him wearing a Buccaneer — or any other headset — anytime soon.
“We have discussed that, way back at the beginning of the conversations,” Fulmer said through a laugh. “At this point it’s not something I care to do. It’s not anything other than I’m enjoying my family and my children. “I chose not to leave the area because of my grandchildren and my children and I don’t want to do something that’s going to limit that time. I’ve also got quite an obligation to a partnership with a business I’m involved in.”
He also said he will help ETSU in its search for a coach and continue to advise and lend his expertise and knowledge to the school.
“I’m excited to help them to get started and find the right guy as far as a coach. They are starving for football at the collegiate level. Football and sports are something that’s great for a community. Now we’ve got to find the right coach and put a good product on the field,” said the former Tennessee guard and coach of the 1998 national champion Volunteers. “As a consultant you are not there every day. It’s more the (ETSU) president and athletic director. I am going to help them as much as I can.”
Fulmer says Jones
is doing it right
On the Knoxville front, Fulmer said first-year head coach Butch Jones is going about things the right way, but cautioned that diligence and fortitude will be key factors in the continued rebuilding project in Knoxville.
“Butch and I sat down and had a couple-hour meeting as soon as he got through with recruiting. I’m pleased that he is embracing our history and tradition and all that has been accomplished before, because that has been a lot. He is reconnecting through the former players as it should be, which I’m one of and I’m excited about that,” said the coach turned business executive. “He’s a great guy and now he has to prove he can do it, like all of us when we start off. But, I think he has got the right kind of attitude and approach. We are going to have to be patient because it’s been a tough three or four years around Tennessee. He’ll get it done.”
The former leader of the Volunteers stated he wasn’t comfortable stating a public opinion about the state of the current team, but admitted he may have a bit more insight simply because he has spoken with those on the inside. He is pleased with the direction Jones is taking the team and said the current athletics department administration is providing support that has been lacking in the past. Fulmer said the restructuring is made even harder with the addition of other powerful programs to the Southeastern Conference.
“It would be unfair for me to (give an opinion) because I’m not around it every day like I used to be, to sit here and make any kind of (comment on the state of the program) good or bad from looking outside in. I just have to go on what everybody is saying. I really like (UT athletic director) Dave Hart. I had a chance to visit with him on a couple of different occasions. But, I guess I would have more insight than most because I have talked to those people. I think he (Hart) gives us some leadership that we haven’t had there since coach (Doug) Dickey left,” Fulmer said of the current AD. “I think Butch is approaching it much the same as I approached it, to be honest with you, that it’s a family.
“That’s what I encouraged and he is approaching it that way. It’s tougher right now because of (Texas) A&M coming into our division. Also it’s tougher a little bit because we are having to fight from bottom to top. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take a lot of patience and a lot of great effort by coach Jones to put it all together. We all are going to have to understand that for a while still, that it’s going to take time. We need consistency and continuity and hopefully, that is what we’ll have.”