Life without football

Phillip Fulmer has been asked some really difficult questions since he was fired as Tennessee's head coach in 2008. And he has been asked one really easy one: What does he miss most about football?

Answer: Everything.

"You miss something every day," the former Vol head man said during a recent appearance at the a3 celebrity golf tournament in Knoxville.

Although he has far more time for his family, friends and outside interests nowadays, Phillip Fulmer clearly yearns for the emotional roller-coaster ride of being a major college head coach.

"The highs aren't as high and the lows aren't as low," he said of life without football. "You feel like you're helping people in what I'm doing but when you're dealing with 18- to 20-year-olds, it was very, very rewarding. It was very challenging at times but very rewarding."

He also misses the excitement of recruiting, the brainstorming that goes into formulating a game plan, the camaraderie of the locker room, the tension of a tight game, the pride of watching a well-executed play and the thrill of victory.

"There's not anything that you don't miss about it," he said. "I did it for a lot of years."

Counting 17 seasons heading up Tennessee's program, he did it for 39 years, to be exact. Now that he's closing in on 61 years of age, though, you have to wonder: Is the door still open for a return to coaching?

"Unless it's the perfect scenario," he said, "I don't think I'll coach again."

Even without coaching again, Fulmer may be involved in football this fall. He has done some work as a network analyst on college telecasts and would love to do so again.

"I'm kind of in the negotiating process with CBS," he said. "I'm not sure what we'll do there. I'm greatly enjoying what I'm doing from the business standpoint with Northshore Management Company. I'm excited about the (free) time and getting to connect with lots of my friends and former players."

Fulmer got to reconnect with a bunch of his former players at the a3 benefit tournament. He found the coach/player relationship to be just as strong and just as rewarding as ever.

"It's special," he said. "That's what was so special about coaching. They think they're men when they're 18 - they're mature adolescents - but you watch them grow into men. The greatest part about it is when they come up and hug your neck and they say thank you for supporting me and sticking with me and giving me the opportunity.

"It goes way beyond what happened on the playing field. That's reflected in the relationships you have."

Although he sees many of his former players on a regular basis, Fulmer's contact with a few of them is understandably rare. Still, he finds the bond powerful.

"You can go five years and not see one of the guys, then you see him and it's like it was yesterday," the coach said. "It's been really neat. I enjoy these kinds of things (a3 Tournament) because before (as a coach) I was always on their butt about something. Now I'm not having to be. Now their wife is ... or somebody."

Nodding toward former All-America linebacker Al Wilson," Fulmer added: "I didn't have to be on Al's butt too much."

Although his alma mater dismissed him in 2008, Fulmer retains warm feelings for the school. He's hoping second-year coach Derek Dooley can return Tennessee to a spot among the nation's premier football programs.

"He's young in it and he's got to prove himself," Fulmer said. "Over a period of time, I think he'll do that. I do like him. I've had several conversations with him, and I think he's got a good idea of what Tennessee is about and what the Southeastern Conference is about.

"That's a great start, along with playing your rear off on Saturday and winning a lot more than you lose here at Tennessee."

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