Tennessee icon Phillip Fulmer back in the saddle recruiting for Vols again

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer is back on the road recruiting again, seeking out the best “Jimmy’s and Joe’s” he can find for the Vols.

Fulmer, who coached Tennessee to a 152-52 record from 1992-2008 — including the 1998 national championship — used to like to say “It’s not the Xs and Os, but the Jimmy’s and Joe’s” that mattered most during the Vols’ era of dominance.

“You can not take a mule to the Kentucky Derby,” Fulmer said Sunday night on the ‘The Nation’ Vol Network show Sunday night. “We’ve got to get players.”

RELATED: Jeremy Pruitt makes recruiting request to help Tennessee get going

Fulmer replaced John Currie as Tennessee’s athletic director on Dec. 1 and hired new football coach Jeremy Pruitt six days later on Dec. 7.

There’s just one catch: Pruitt will finish out this season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator and is essentially on loan to recruit for the Vols through Dec. 17, before the start of the recruiting “dead period.” The dead period means coaches cannot see recruits or their parents face to face or visit their high schools.

Fulmer, once known for his great recruiting prowess to the extent of playing himself in the movie “The Blind Side,” is once again qualified to be on the road as a recruiter until Pruitt can fill out his coaching staff.

The new early signing period starts on Dec. 20, and the Vols hosted several 2017 commits this weekend who plan to sign early and enroll in school in January.

“I’ve passed my test and I’m ready to hit the road here, made a lot of phone calls,” the 67-year-old Fulmer said Sunday night. “[Recruiting] is something, if you have the passion, and everyone knows how much I care for what Tennessee is and what it’s done for me, and I want it to be great again. This has actually energized me.

“You like to compete, and we’ve really got a great opportunity in front of us. We’re looking forward and not behind.”

Tennessee is coming off the school’s first-ever eight-loss season and winless league slate.

Fulmer insists the Vols aren’t that far from where they need to be to compete for championships, likely referencing the back-to-back nine-win seasons and top-25 finishes under former coach Butch Jones in 2015 and 2016.

“We’re not that far removed from where we were competing for championships,” said Fulmer, whose program last played in the SEC Championship Game in 2007, when he was still the head coach. “We just have to remind everyone that’s what we’re about.”

Fulmer made it clear the Vols are casting a wide net, too.

“We’ve tripled the number of guys we’re looking at,” Fulmer said, “and I like the way we’re going about getting ready to compete.”

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