Phillip Fulmer said he wants to be a "stabilizing and unifying force" as he leads the University of Tennessee's Athletics Department and continues the search for the Vols' next head football coach.
UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport announced Friday Athletics Director John Currie has been placed on leave with pay and Fulmer will take on the role of athletics director effective immediately.
"I have taken these steps in the best interest of the university," Davenport said a statement announcing the leadership change. "I am confident that Phillip understands the need to support our student-athletes and our commitment to excellence in all athletic programs. I appreciate his willingness to serve during this critical time."
Currie met with UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport briefly Friday morning as fervor over the search for UT's new head football coach continues to reach new levels. He has served in the job for exactly eight months.
Currie came from Kansas State, replacing David Hart when he retired earlier this year after spending six years at the helm of Vols athletics. His hiring was highly touted by many analysts and UT admin alike, though others felt candidates such as Fulmer and former UTC AD David Blackburn would have been a better fit.
Davenport and Fulmer appeared together at a news conference Friday afternoon where Davenport said the former Vols head coach will lead the department for "the foreseeable future," and will take the reins of the coaching search.
"We are here today to begin a new era and a new opportunity to move the university forward," she said.
Fulmer said his first priority is "to turn around our football program."
"Our football program has the history, the facilities and the resources to play with anyone at anytime, and that's what we're going to do again," he said.
Fulmer said it's time the university, fans, alumni and athletes pull together to move the program forward.
"I hope to be a stabilizing and unifying force through this because we do have some gray hair and lots of experience at this place. Sometimes it's when you’re younger that you screwed it up so bad that you figured it out later, and you don’t make those same mistakes again," he said. "Everybody wants to be champions here. Everybody wants to win. What we need is communication and trust, and working together to make it happen, including our wonderful fan base ... We’re on the same page in going forward, not looking back at the last nine years."
Fulmer said he doesn't have a timetable for the coaching search because things developed so quickly on Friday. Asked if he would serve as an interim head football coach, Fulmer said no.
"I have done my duty in that way," he said.
Davenport would not answer questions about how the coaching search has proceeded so far, and said she didn't want to talk about any specific potential coaches.
"We need experience. We need someone who knows this work and is committed to the University of Tennessee," she said.
Fulmer has been acting as a special adviser to UT President Joe DiPietro for community, athletics and relations since June.
DiPietro released the following statement about the change in leadership for the athletic department:
“The University of Tennessee is fortunate to have an athletic department beloved by alumni and fans across the state and around the country. The process of searching for a football coach for the Vols has obviously not gone as expected to this point, and I regret the damage it has caused to the University’s reputation. I’m very grateful to Phillip Fulmer for stepping in to act as athletics director at this critical juncture, and I’m completely confident that he is the right choice to right the ship and for moving the process forward toward a successful outcome.”
Fulmer has been connected to UT athletics for more than 40 years. A 1972 UT graduate, he was a star on the offensive line and served as team captain during his senior year. Fulmer returned as an assistant coach in 1980 before being named head coach in 1992.
"Under his leadership, the Vols won back-to-back SEC titles in 1997 and 1998 and the 1998 BCS National Championship. Fulmer was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012," the university said.