Phillip Fulmer was born in Winchester, Tennessee, where he attended Franklin County High School. While at Franklin, Fulmer played football and starred for the team. Fulmer enrolled at the University of Tennessee as a student in 1968. He promptly joined the football team as an offensive guard. While playing for the Volunteers, Fulmer garnered All-Southeastern Conference honors at offensive guard. Fulmer contributed to Tennessee's 30–5 record from 1969–1971, where he played for head coaches Doug Dickey (who returned to Tennessee as athletic director and hired Fulmer as the Volunteers' coach) and Bill Battle. The Volunteers captured the SEC championship with a 9–2 record in 1969, went 11–1 and won the Sugar Bowl in 1970, and finished as Liberty Bowl champions with a 10–2 record in 1971.
Fulmer's 17 years at the helm of the Volunteers program produced a record of 152 wins and 52 losses. At the conclusion of Fulmer's final season, he was the dean of SEC football coaches and no active coach with at least a decade in Division I-A had a better winning percentage (.744).
Under his tutelage, the Volunteers were the first to win the Bowl Championship Series National Championship in 1998 and made five appearances in the SEC Championship game, winning it in 1997 and 1998 and also capturing SEC East titles in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007.
Fulmer was named SEC Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year in 1998.
A 1972 Tennessee graduate, he starred on the offensive line during his playing career, serving as team co-captain as a senior. The Vols were 30-5 and won an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl during his playing career from 1969-71.
He returned to Rocky Top as an assistant coach in 1980 before being named head coach in 1992.
Fulmer built his programs by challenging and motivating his teams to victories when the pressure was highest. Among his many accolades:
- Nine Fulmer-coached squads eclipsed the 10-win mark and two others just missed with nine victories.
- Eighteen of Fulmer's Vols earned first-team All-America honors, 70 Vols garnered first-team All-SEC acclaim and he produced 19 first-round NFL Draft selections and had a total of 101 players selected overall.
- Under Fulmer, the Vols were ranked in the national polls at game time for 169 of his 204 games as head coach.
- Tennessee posted a 44-37 record against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 Poll during his tenure.
- Fulmer is one of only three coaches to produce multiple winners of the Draddy Award (now known as the William V. Campbell Trophy), which recognizes the nation's top academic and athletic student-athlete by The National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame. Offensive lineman Michael Munoz and quarterback Peyton Manning both received the award under Fulmer's tutelage.
Fulmer's family approach in developing and guiding his young men on and off the field gave him the opportunity to mentor some of the top names in college and NFL history—including Manning, Eric Berry, Chad Clifton, Al Wilson and Jason Witten. Fulmer's motivation was rooted in his role as a principled mentor who pushed his student-athletes to grow socially, spiritually, academically and personally, as well as athletically.
Fulmer's reputation as an ace recruiter led many analysts to praise him as one of the top head coach recruiters. His holistic approach earned recognition from his peers as he was named the second coach in history to earn the Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Trophy, the presidency of the American Football Coaches Association, and national, regional and conference coach of the year honors.
His induction into the 2012 National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot was a rare accomplishment, signifying immense respect from his peers. He previously was inducted to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. He was welcomed into the Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
Fulmer and his wife, Vicky, have been passionate and active supporters of several philanthropic causes. Phillip has served as the national spokesperson for The Jason Foundation, Inc., since 1998. He also serves as honorary chair of the Knoxville Alzheimer's Association Walk and sits on the Board of Trustees for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley. The annual Phillip Fulmer Golf Classic in 2001 has raised over $1 million for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley. Additionally, Vicky stands as an honorary board member with Friends of the Smokies.
Fulmer's three daughters—Courtney, Brittany and Allison—each graduated from the University of Tennessee's College of Communication & Information. Brittany and Allison also lettered as Lady Vols, competing as a diver and a softball player, respectively. His son, Phillip Jr., lives and works in White House, Tennessee.
1974: Wichita State, Offensive Line Coach
1975-76: Wichita State, Linebackers Coach
1977-78: Wichita State, Offensive Line Coach
1979: Vanderbilt, Offensive Line Coach
1980-88: Tennessee, Offensive Line Coach
1989-92: Tennessee, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
1992-2008: Tennessee, Head Football Coach
2013-15: ETSU, Special Assistant to the Athletic Director and Advisor to Football
2017: Tennessee, Special Advisor to the President for Community, Athletics and University Relations
2017: Tennessee, Director of Athletics