by Tony Basilo Believe it or not, UT is back on the practice field. Summer is soon coming to an unofficial screeching halt. In the immortal words of John Ward, â“It's football time in Tennessee!â” It's time for a divided Tennessee family to come together over their Hall of Fame coach, Phillip Fulmer.
He's defensive, he's irascible, and he's downright indignant about the perception of heat being on him. Yet Fulmer continues to work behind the scenes on things that matter. I'm not talking about a way to defeat Florida in mid-September in the Swamp. Things that matter. I'm cheering for Fulmer this season because he quietly likes to leave things better than he finds them. He gets involved.
His work with the Jason Foundation has gone largely unnoticed but deserves kudos. When contacted by the family of Jason Flatt several years ago in the wake of the 16-year-old's suicide, Fulmer jumped in with both feet. The late teen's family wanted him to lend a name and perhaps a few contacts in their startup effort for staving off the epidemic of suicide among young people.
Fulmer not only obliged the Nashvillians but also dedicated his time, talent and treasure to their cause. He was asked to cut a PSA. He became a national spokesman. He became hands-on. He did it all under the radar with little fanfare. No UT press releases, no press period. He's donated hundreds of hours through the years and thousands of dollars and never said a word publicly about it.
Fulmer has never used his association with this organization as a way of currying favor. The somewhat embattled UT head coach has been performing a great deed in private.
Yes, he's making excuses for UT's â“un-'90s-ishâ” performance in recent years in public, but in private he's getting it done. Time will tell if Tennessee can get back to Atlanta and ultimately win an SEC title. The word is that Tennessee has two years to do it or Fulmer may be looking for work. Yet he continues to fight the good fight. The fight for things that matter.
His latest, great private deed centers around former UT strength coach John Stuckey who died last spring, following a mysterious illness that caused his brain to swell slowly over several years. It was a slow and torturous way for a valuable, beloved member of the UT national championship staff to go out. The disease first manifested itself early in the new millennium. Stuckey tried to fight through the pain of his malady, but eventually UT's hulking strength and conditioning coach deteriorated right before the very young men he was helping to build up. He's been gone from the UT scene for several years yet is not forgotten. Fulmer is seeing to that.
Now those players have been given a chance by their former head coach to give back to the family of their fallen strength coach. Unceremoniously, Fulmer sent a letter to several former players, giving them (to borrow a phrase from local philanthropist Big Jim Haslam) â“a chance to take part in the blessingâ” of collecting some money for Stuckey's family, which has been financially beset by medical costs.
Former Vol All-American Will Overstreet is one of the guys who received the letter. He was moved enough to approach me about doing a radio-thon. That's a given. Now, I'm moved enough by this cause to approach you, the reader. Stuckey's family is left with great memories of a wonderful man, but also tremendous medical bills that mounted over the final years of his life.
â“John Stuckey was a fine Christian man. He was a guy who cared about everybody. And guys who wanted to get better really excelled under him. He helped me on and off the field. I and all who knew him will always love the guy,â” Overstreet says.
Overstreet was there when Coach Stuckey first started to show the effects of his illness. â“He would be talking and then repeat what he had just said,â” he recalls. â“It was really tough watching that. It was heartbreaking watching him fight through it. It was tough on everybody because Coach Stuckey was such a great man.â”
Thank you, Coach Fulmer, for your quiet, good works behind the scenes. Let's unite and volunteer for Stuckey.
Please send your contributions made payable to Jeanne Stuckey to the following address:
c/o P&C Entertainment
P.O. Box 26011
Knoxville, TN 37912
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.
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