Timing of Phillip Fulmer’s return brings risks, tension for Vols

Phillip Fulmer
Amanda Izzi/Tennessee Athletics

The return of Phillip Fulmer to an official capacity at the University of Tennessee has all the makings of a dream — and a nightmare.

First, Fulmer being shunned by UT for years was simply sad. He had done far too much to not be welcomed with open arms at every opportunity. He was practically exiled from the program he helped build, though some of that was by his own doing. There was a natural period of separation that needed to happen, but it lasted way too long.

Fulmer’s return as special advisor to university president Joe DiPietro could be a fabulous addition to the entire university. Fulmer has insight into how to run a successful, big-time football program more than anyone else at UT. He’s the only one that’s actually done it.

RELATED: Phillip Fulmer: Butch Jones has ‘rebuilt the program’ at Tennessee

But Fulmer’s sudden inclusion at UT comes at an odd time. Fulmer was thought to be a strong candidate to become Tennessee’s next athletic director before John Currie nabbed the job. Now, Fulmer is advising Currie’s boss. That could be a bit uncomfortable.

It’s no secret Currie and Fulmer had a tumultuous relationship. There’s even been public speculation by those close to Fulmer that Currie was intricately involved in Fulmer’s firing as coach. Fulmer always has taken the high road publicly, but it’s reasonable to think he still has issues with Currie. That could be bad news for Currie; just ask Johnny Majors.

Fulmer also steps into an athletic department with a football coach on the hot seat. Fulmer could be a fantastic sounding board for Butch Jones, but if things don’t go well, it would be hard for Fulmer not to second-guess Jones. Ask Majors.

RELATED: Tennessee AD John Currie says Neyland Stadium needs renovation

Fulmer’s career at UT never received enough credit. I’ve long said he should have a statue at Neyland Stadium as a way to commemorate him. But this isn’t the time to bring Fulmer back in an official capacity. The timing just isn’t right.

Sure, everything may go swimmingly, but there’s certainly reason to question that it actually will. And with a coach on the hot seat and a new athletic director with questionable support, UT’s athletic department could wake up in a cold sweat.

(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)

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