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University of Tennessee
Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer does not believe in excuses. Setbacks? You work through them. Lose Peyton Manning to the NFL? Lose your best running back, Jamal Lewis, to injury? You just keep on going.
"I've always believed if we're willing to work hard enough, good things will happen," Fulmer said. "I think we proved that this season."
The 48-year-old Fulmer led the Volunteers to their first national championship since 1951. Tennessee wrapped up a perfect 13-0 season with a 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl and Fulmer was voted the Maxwell Football Club's Collegiate Coach of the Year. He is the tenth recipient of the George Munger Award, named in honor of the former University of Pennsylvania coach.
Fulmer, a former UT offensive guard (1968-71), is the winningest coach, percentage-wise, in college football with a career record of 67-11. The 1998 season, which culminated in the Fiesta Bowl, was his greatest achievement because most people expected the Volunteers to be in a rebuilding mode after losing Manning, the All-America quarterback, and several other standouts (Terry Fair, Marcus Nash, Leonard Little) to the pros.
But Fulmer rebuilt the team in his own blue-collar image and bolstered by a September 19th win over Florida, 20-17, the Volunteers climbed through the rankings. The team kept winning even after Lewis went down with a knee injury in October.
"Coach ain't fancy and neither is this team," senior linebacker Al Wilson said. "This team is more like him than any I've been on."
"You will not outwork him," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "And when you see the head coach putting in all these hours, you don't mind doing it yourself."
"I don't like to lose at anything," Fulmer said. "It's not something I think about, but that's the way it is. If I have a strength...(it) is the consistency of being the best I can be."
ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson described Fulmer as "Tennessee to the core." Born in the small town of Winchester (population 6,700), he learned his work ethic from his father Ed who held down two jobs, hauling cargo by day and working as a security guard at night. The younger Fulmer helped his father after school and inherited his work ethic.
Fulmer worked as an assistant coach at Tennessee for 12 seasons before taking over as head coach, succeeding Johnny Majors, in 1992. He immediately became known as one of the best recruiters in college football.
"Phil Fulmer does a great job of communicating to young people when a lot of coaches aren't very good communicators," Bobby Burton of the National Recruiting Adviser said. "Pretty much every (coach) works very hard in recruiting. All of them leave no stone unturned. It comes down to communication skills and Fulmer has what it takes."
"He's honest and straightforward," said junior linebacker Raynoch Thompson. "You know exactly where you stand with Coach Fulmer. He tells you what's on his mind and means what he says. There is not a lot of flash, but he gets the job done."
The Maxwell Football Club thanks Ray Didinger of NFL Films for contributing this article on Phil Fulmer.