KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer has been forced out as coach after 17 years that included a national championship.
Fulmer, 58, his voice cracking and pausing to keep his composure, announced Monday at a news conference that he will step aside at the end of the season. He said he was “accepting the university’s decision.”
Fulmer had a 150-51 record with the Volunteers, including the national championship in 1998.
But Tennessee fell on hard times this season and was just 3-6, including 1-5 in the Southeastern Conference after a 27-6 loss at South Carolina on Saturday.
“Many fans have been supportive. Some have been very angry. All of us are disappointed,” Fulmer said about this season.
Fulmer signed a new seven-year contract in the summer worth $2.4 million this season. A buyout of the contract after this season would cost $6 million.
The contract was to be worth an average $3 million annually over the next seven seasons with built-in raises each season, raises for an SEC championship or BCS bowl appearance and an automatic one-year extension for every eight-win season.
He has the third-best winning percentage among active coaches with 10 years of experience, trailing only Florida’s State’s Bobby Bowden and Penn State’s Joe Paterno.
His teams won two conference titles and seven divisional crowns.
“This is not an easy day for me or my family. It is not a day that I sought or accepted easily,” Fulmer said.
“Our Tennessee family is united in its goals but divided in the right path to get there. I love Tennessee too much to let her stay divided. That is why I accept the university’s decision that this will be my last season as Tennessee’s football coach.”
He said he’s uncertain about his future.
“It’s a tough part of the profession,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said.
Tennessee officially named Fulmer coach on Nov. 29, 1992.
Tennessee has offered Fulmer a chance to stay in the program in some capacity, but he would not commit to retiring from coaching for good.