Phillip Fulmer is shown speaking during the University of Tennessee at Martin Ned Ray McWherter Institute’s 2019 Igniting Innovation fundraising dinner April 23 in the UT Martin Duncan Ballroom.

Coach Phillip Fulmer explains pillars of leadership

Phillip Fulmer, current director of athletics and former head football coach at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spoke during the University of Tennessee at Martin Ned Ray McWherter Institute’s 2019 Igniting Innovation fundraising dinner April 23 in the UT Martin Duncan Ballroom. Fulmer has served the University of Tennessee System for more than 40 years.

Fulmer praised the leadership of both UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver and UT System Interim President Randy Boyd before sharing what he considers the four pillars of leadership with his audience, which included university donors, community supporters and NRMI students and staff.

“The first (pillar of leadership) is communication. Don’t surprise me. … As much as we can, we want to communicate and make sure that we’re going through the processes that we’re supposed to go through so that we don’t surprise each other. Number two is trust, and trust is not given. It’s earned over a period of time,” he said.

“The third thing, for us as an athletic department … is warmth. Warmth for each other, meaning I care about you and you care about me. We all care about our student-athletes. We all care about our university. We all care about our community and our state and what we represent. We’re working hard to be warmer at the University of Tennessee,” Fulmer continued. “The last (pillar) is intensity. Get up every day to be the very best that you can possibly be. … Every day get up to beat Georgia, Florida and Alabama.”

He also talked about personal greatness and the role of passion in individual success, ending with a story about a meeting with R.C. Slocum, former head football coach and current interim athletics director at Texas A&M University. During this encounter, Slocum used 100 pennies to illustrate the years in a person’s life and how many might remain for himself and Fulmer.

“It’s important to count your pennies, but it’s a lot more important to make your pennies count,” Slocum said.

Fulmer urged all in attendance to “make their pennies count,” not only through personal drive and dedication but also through the support of organizations like the Ned Ray McWherter Institute, which provides personal and professional development opportunities to a select group of UT Martin students each year.

Fulmer has served the University of Tennessee for more than 40 years. During his time as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteer football team, he led the team to five championship games in the Southeastern Conference (with wins in 1997 and 1998) and a national championship title in 1998. He was most recently inducted into the Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, and he received first-ballot induction to both the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

UT Martin alumni William Rhodes III, chairman, president and CEO of Autozone, and Ronnie and Jannie Yeargin, owners of Yeargin Farms, received R. Clayton McWhorter awards from the Ned Ray McWherter Institute during the event. These awards recognize members of the regional community who have shown themselves to be innovators in their fields.

For more information on the institute, Igniting Innovation or Fulmer’s appearance, contact Joyanne Gansereit, program coordinator, at 731-881-3620 or


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