One of the first things Tennessee coach Derek Dooley did after getting the job back in February was to reach out to Phillip Fulmer.
He called Fulmer personally and told the former longtime Tennessee coach that he wanted to meet with him. Fulmer was fired following the 2008 season, but still lives right outside Knoxville in nearby Maryville.
“He’s been very gracious and very supportive, and I’m appreciative of that,” Dooley said. “I know what he’s going through isn’t easy. Hey, any time you’ve been at a place a long time like him and had the success that he’s had and it doesn’t end the way you want it to end, it’s hard and hard emotionally. I understand that.
“I’m not getting in the middle of what happened, but I do understand he has a lot of pain over it. I’m also appreciative that he’s supportive of me and what we’re trying to do here. It’s obvious that he loves Tennessee and always will.”
Dooley’s reaching out to Fulmer was in direct contrast to what happened when Lane Kiffin took the job. Kiffin had a secretary call Fulmer and ask him to come meet with Kiffin at the Vols’ football complex.
Needless to say, that meeting never occurred, and Kiffin and Fulmer had no relationship.
Dooley said it’s important to him that he and Fulmer have a healthy relationship. They met for dinner at Fulmer’s house soon after signing day.
“I called him on the phone right when I took the job and told him how much respect I had for him and what he’d done here and was humbled to have the job that he had,” Dooley said. “I told him that I hoped, in time, that he would be supportive, and he has been.”
Fulmer, who spent more than 30 years at Tennessee as a player, assistant coach and head coach, invited Dooley over to his house after recruiting.
“We had a nice dinner, and it was just the two of us, no wives,” Dooley joked. “It was two coaches talking, and I did more listening. He was a great resource for me to get started.”
Dooley said he has not spoken with Kiffin since taking the Tennessee job and has no plans to at this point.
“I don’t know Lane, and it’s not because of anything,” Dooley said. “I just don’t know him. You know, I really have no real reason to talk with him.”