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Phillip Fulmer could return as Tennessee’s next athletic director

He left his job as the Vols’ head football coach eight years ago.

Tennessee v Vanderbilt Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tennessee is considering former football coach Phillip Fulmer for its soon-to-be vacant athletic director position, ESPN and USA Today report. Current AD Dave Hart announced last summer his plan to retire, and he’s slated to step down sometime in the first half of this year. Fulmer, both outlets report, is a candidate to come next.

Fulmer won a national championship at Tennessee in the 1998 season, leading the Vols to a 13-0 record. In 17 seasons in Knoxville — still the only place he’s been a college head coach — Fulmer went 151-52-1. All but four of those seasons ended with the Vols ranked in the top 25, and Fulmer posted losing seasons just twice.

He left the job after 2008, in what looked like a forced stepping-aside. Fulmer’s still got his backers, though, and some of them are trying to put him in charge.

As USA Today’s Dan Wolken writes:

Fulmer has grown close to Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and a group of influential boosters have been working behind the scenes to help install him as Dave Hart’s replacement, according to people close to the situation.

ESPN’s Chris Low contacted Fulmer to get a sense of his interest in the job, and the ex-coach didn’t confirm anything but didn’t come close to denying it, either.

"Since I was 18 years old, UT's best interests have always been my interest," Fulmer told ESPN.com. "I want what is best for UT. Dr. [Beverly] Davenport [UT's newly named chancellor] has laid out a clear process, and we have to respect the time and her vision to complete that process."

Since Fulmer’s last season, Tennessee’s had a turbulent coaching run. The Vols hired Lane Kiffin as his replacement, but Kiffin bolted for USC after one season. After three bad seasons under Derek Dooley, Tennessee hired Cincinnati (and former Central Michigan) coach Butch Jones. In four seasons, Jones is 30-21.

Fulmer has never been an athletic director. He previously worked as a consultant for the East Tennessee State athletic department.

This past season, Fulmer appeared in Volunteer orange as a College GameDay guest picker before Tennessee played Florida. Sitting next to former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, Fulmer narrowly lost a competition over who’d pick more games correctly.

Spurrier, as it happens, returned to UF in a front-office role last year. Fulmer could join him in returning to his coaching roots as an administrator, though this would be a much bigger job.