I was in Knoxville for the press conference where Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer announced that he’ll be stepping down as the head football coach of the Vols at the end of the season. The room was filled with the entire team to show support for their coach.
The numbers are confusing. He won nearly 75 percent of his games as head coach in nearly 17 years. He won a national championship in 1998, but those numbers became somewhat erratic in recent years and a 3-6 record this year resulted in an ouster move that succeeded.
I’ve personally seen a change in Phillip Fulmer over the last few years. A gentler expression, less arrogance. I know that all those other years he was a busy man, but he seemed to talk through you, not to you. I really liked this more caring individual. And then I heard his players defend him at the press conference. They talked about him being a father figure. A man who stood in their living rooms as he recruited them and told them that he would treat them like his own children.
I believe he did, and perhaps to a fault. I think he began to care so much that he tolerated players who stretched their liberties.
But on the other hand, that’s a wonderful change in his personality. We all have to change as we get older. I think we get to a point, and I’m there at the age of 61, where we realize that touching and influencing young peoples lives for the better has deeper, more lasting impact than just the all out pursuit of victory.
In this case, it cost him his job, because the university runs on a bottom line…win or else. We want instant gratification. What I’m saying is that stepping down as head coach may be good for Phillip Fulmer because it will allow him to channel his care and concern for young athletes in a new direction, where he’s not judged only by his wins and losses, but the lives his touches.
So if you’re a coach, realize that your priorities will probably change as you get older, and that’s great. Especially if you begin to care more about people than numbers.