Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer is taking 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 as athletic director on Friday. Sources told ESPN that Fulmer will get a two-year contract for the job.
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.
Currie had been leading a disastrous 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.
Fulmer will be Tennessee’s athletic director “for the foreseeable future” and “take the reins of our search,” Davenport said at a news conference Friday.
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.
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.
“No one better understands the storied history of Vol athletics and its deep connection to alumni and fans,” Davenport said of Fulmer in a statement, “and I believe he will be a unifying presence for all of us committed to the university’s success.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.