Phillip Fulmer was born in Winchester, Tennessee, where he attended Franklin County High School. Fulmer excelled on the football field which led him to the opportunity to receive a scholarship from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Fulmer enrolled at the University of Tennessee as a student in 1968 and joined the football team as an offensive guard. 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 served as team co-captain during his senior year in 1971.
Coach stayed on as a Graduate Assistant at UT in charge of the freshman team's defense and linebackers. During that time, former Vols All-American player and legendary assistant George Cafego taught Coach Fulmer the values and skills needed to scout the opposition. It became a key development to Coach Fulmer's future success. He then took those experiences away from his comfort zone and coached five seasons at Wichita State and one season at Vanderbilt before returning to Knoxville for 13 years as a Tennessee Assistant - the last four as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator.
Coach Fulmer served as Head Football Coach at Tennessee for 17 years, from 1992-2008. He and his staff built an organization that produced the most successful era in modern Tennessee football history. Coach and his staff were tireless recruiters and mentored some of the top names in college and NFL history. In Coach's last 11 years, he played in the SEC Championship game five times, winning twice. He also led the Vols to one of the greatest moments in school history, the 1998 National Championship in the very first BCS title game.
In his 17 seasons, his record was 152-52 with a 74 percent winning percentage, he had 92 players make an NFL roster, 18 players earned All-American honors and another 68 players were selected All-SEC. Coach Fulmer is also very proud of the family approach he took, guiding his players to off the field successes as well as on the field successes.
Fulmer built his program by motivating his teams to victories when the pressure was highest. His motivation was rooted in his role as a principled mentor who pushed his young men to grow socially, spiritually, academically, personally, and athletically. Coach Fulmer had a reputation as an ace recruiter, leading many analysts to praise him as one of the game’s top head coach recruiters. His holistic approach earned Fulmer unprecedented recognition from his peers—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.
Coach Fulmer was inducted into the 2012 National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. In order to be considered for the Hall of Fame, Coaches must have served at least 10 seasons and 100 games while posting a winning percentage of at least .600, and Coaches under the age of 70 must have been out of coaching for three years. Coach Fulmer is one of the youngest coaches to be inducted into the Hall of Fame which signifies the respect he received from his peers as being selected in to the Hall on the first ballot.
Phillip Fulmer was hired as Athletics Director for the University of Tennessee in December 2017. During his three-year tenure in the role he was successful in re-establishing the athletics program, expanding facilities and fundraising, and hiring a number of successful coaches. Fulmer's coaching hires included head volleyball coach Eve Rackham Watt, men's golf coach Brennan Webb, and women's basketball coach Kellie Harper. Fulmer also fended off UCLA in 2019, negotiating to retain men's basketball coach Rick Barnes, extending his contract with the university on a deal that lasts through the 2023-2024 season. Fulmer retired from the position of athletics director in January 2021, making way for a new long-term leader to pave the way at the University of Tennessee.