Phillip Fulmer 

UT Knoxville, ’72

So, one time Phillip Fulmer gave up his beloved orange for red when he donned the Santa suit for his grandson’s first-grade class.

That aside, the Hall of Fame football coach, who led the Tennessee Volunteers to the first Bowl Championship Series national title and compiled a 152-52 record in 17 years as head coach, has been steadfast in his commitment to his two greatest loves: his family and the University of Tennessee.

And, when push came to shove, family took precedent over career.

In 2008, Fulmer faced a decision when his coaching tenure ended. Other prominent universities and pro teams sought the successful coach, but “I settled on the fact that I really missed a lot with my children and grandchildren,” Fulmer says.

“They would tell you they lived a charmed life with bowl games and other things. But I missed things with my family that, at that point in my life, I didn’t want to miss anymore. I figured, wherever I went, I wouldn’t be as passionate about it as I was about Tennessee,” he says.

Nine years later, Fulmer says he has no regrets and now serves as special adviser to UT President Joe DiPietro.

His coaching career began in graduate school, where he mulled over his future and thought about becoming a high school principal. Then Coach Bill Battle asked him to be an assistant coach.

Coaching came naturally to Fulmer, who switched from the orange and white to the gold and black for his first full-time coaching gig at Wichita State at 23 years old. He returned to UT in 1980 at the age of 30.

“I am honored to have represented the university as a student, alumnus, coach, player,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of support from my wife and friends. And now, this is exactly where I want to be. There’s not much my family does that I miss.”

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.