sports (2006-17)

Former UT head coach holds forth to Basilio

Field of Battle

by Tony Basilio

I had a caller refer to a photo on page 336 in the 2003 UT Media Guide of a young offensive lineman from Winchester by the name of Phillip Fulmer carrying Bill Battle, UT’s youthful head coach from the field of the Liberty Bowl back in ’69. It was ironic in that only a few days earlier on my show, it was the long-since-deposed Bill Battle doing the heavy lifting on behalf of Fulmer.

Not surprisingly, Battle was unabashed in his support for Tennessee’s embattled head coach. “I know Phillip and have for years. I consider him a good friend. I also consider him a great football coach. What people don’t understand is that every program goes through the ups and downs. You can’t win them all every year. I expect that they will bounce back this year and have a fine season,” Battle said.

Through licensing ventures, Battle has made a fortune in the past 25 years from college football. Like Fulmer, Battle is a millionaire. Since Tennessee is one of the clients of Collegiate Licensing Company, a company he started back in 1981, he has maintained a relationship with the movers and shakers at UT long after his Volunteer days ended.

Even though Battle has made a king’s ransom with a business that grew from representing the assets of his first client, Bear Bryant, into a concern that encompasses most major college teams, I was curious if he had the itch in the mid-80’s to get back on the sidelines.

“Early on when I was still in the window business and not in the licensing business there were a couple of opportunities to get back into it. I had a couple of interviews, one in particular where I made them nervous and they made me nervous and I just couldn’t get back into coaching. I had other friends who couldn’t stay out of the business. If you’re going to stay out of coaching you have to be involved with something that’s fun that you can be passionate about. We do a great thing in this business. These bright young people that we’re able to attract make me want to impart to them knowledge. So, it’s a lot like coaching,” Battle says.

Admittedly, Battle has copious respect for the rigors of college coaching and little love for the burgeoning electronic media that is vital in managing a college football team

“Even though it was rough on me at times back then at Tennessee, the whole business has changed. The two biggest factors that have changed the lives of coaches at schools like Tennessee are talk radio and the Internet. No stone is left unturned anymore. If something happens in your program, even if you try to keep it in house, you read about it a few moments later on the darn Internet,” he says.

“Don’t even get me started on talk radio. The thing that gets me is it’s always so negative. People just don’t want to talk about good things on the radio for whatever reason. You have so many knuckleheads out there who think they know more than the coach himself! I can promise you that the coach wants to get it right,” Battle says. 

Battle served as CEO of CLC until 2001 when he turned over day-to-day operations to his son Pat. In 2001 the Former Vols Coach started Licensing Partners International, an organization that represents the licensing interest of non-collegiate properties. Battle counts the Canadian Football League and even the PGA Tour among his many clients in this realm. He says his days at Tennessee prepared him for managing a huge fish in a $3 billion industry. “As a head coach, you’ve got to manage the budgets, your staff and many other responsibilities. There are a lot of facets of the job that helped prepare me for this. I believe that people who come out of the coaching profession have strong work ethics,” Battle says. “I met a lot of people in the collegiate world and that helped me get in some doors so the experience at Tennessee helped me get a great deal in many ways.”

Though he’s climbed to the top of the corporate ladder, Battle can’t help but empathize with the coaching world he left behind. “Most people don’t recognize how much time coaches put in. It’s an 18 hours a day, seven days a week, 10 months a year deal. Of course, coaches today make a lot of money these days but however much money they make these days they earn it. Particularly when you get paid by the hour and it’s not that much. You have to deal with many facets of being a head coach at a university like the University of Tennessee, the speaking, the boosters, the press, so it’s a tough job.”

Though they are tied together by a shared history in time, place and occupation, Phillip Fulmer and Bill Battle are separated by a dubious distinction. While Battle saw a promising start of the late ‘60s fizzle in the mid-’70s, still he never posted a losing season. One more season like ’05 from Fulmer and there will be new Battles to be fought.

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.