KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer issued a reminder to his former players and colleagues Saturday before they gathered to roast him at a charity event.
“I did warn them that my children and grandchildren are here and my wife is here,” Fulmer quipped. “As long as we don’t get into those things (from) back when I was a player too much, we’ll be all right.”
He needn’t have worried.
Dozens of Fulmer’s former players, teammates and assistant coaches gathered with nearly 1,000 fans in a downtown Knoxville ballroom to greet the College Football Hall of Famer at a roast benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. Many of the former players came to praise the former Volunteers coach rather than roast him as they discussed everything he’d taught them on and off the field.
“It’s the difference you made in our lives when you would tell us how to be a better dad, how to be a boyfriend and now, how to be a husband,” said former quarterback and 1993 Heisman Trophy runner-up Heath Shuler, who served three terms in Congress after his NFL career. “That’s what you taught us. It wasn’t the X’s and O’s or wins and losses. You can take all those wins and losses and put them aside, and the impact you had on our lives is far greater than any one win or any national championship.”
There were a few gentle barbs as well as some revelations about Fulmer’s hidden talents. Former Tennessee and NFL offensive tackle Chad Clifton referred to a recruiting trip in which Fulmer took his parents to country bar Cotton Eyed Joe.
“I tell you what, if he coaches half as well as he can dance, you’re in good hands,” Clifton remembered his mom telling him afterward.
The ceremony included videotaped messages from Fulmer’s greatest player and biggest nemesis.
Peyton Manning, the 1997 Heisman Trophy runner-up, called Fulmer “the most loyal coach I’ve ever had.” Manning joked about how Fulmer tried to reassure Manning’s mother — a Mississippi alum — while visiting the family’s home during the recruiting process. Manning’s mom wanted to make sure Tennessee wouldn’t face Ole Miss during his college career.
“He looked my mother right in the eye and said, ‘Olivia, I promise you we will not play Ole Miss one time during Peyton’s time here at Tennessee,’ ” Manning recalled. “Coach Fulmer was not lying because we played Ole Miss two times during my time there. … That is a good recruiter. He didn’t make a lie, but he pretty much conned my mother.”
Former Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose Florida teams spent the 1990s dueling with Fulmer’s Volunteers for Southeastern Conference supremacy, referred to the Gators’ 27-23 victory in 2000 that featured five field goals from Tennessee and a disputed game-winning touchdown catch from Jabar Gaffney.
“I’m glad you told your team that day that Gaffney caught the pass in the end zone late and all those field goals that you kicked that day were going to be good enough,” Spurrier quipped before praising Fulmer’s coaching ability.
More videotaped testimonials came from the likes of country singer Charlie Daniels, sportscaster Brent Musburger and former Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson among others.
Fulmer lettered as an offensive guard at Tennessee from 1969-71 and posted a 152-52-1 record as the Volunteers’ coach during a tenure that included a 1998 national title. He coached Tennessee’s first three games in 1992 while Johnny Majors recovered from heart surgery and took over the program for good at the end of the 1992 regular season. He was forced out in 2008 but remained Tennessee’s coach through the end of that season.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org