KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he's intentionally tried to lay low in recent months as his replacement, Lane Kiffin, took over the Volunteers.
Fulmer was given the Gen. Robert Neyland Trophy by the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Saturday morning in a reception before Tennessee's annual Orange and White spring scrimmage game.
He was honored on the field at Neyland Stadium before the game, drawing cheers from the crowd of 51,488.
"I actually did discuss with them whether the timing was the right thing or not, and they assured me that they felt it was the right thing," Fulmer said before the game Saturday. "It takes a while to validate yourself. I've been way under the radar. You don't want to be interfering or anything."
Kiffin spoke at the reception about the progress of the team but did not speak with his predecessor, instead leaving just after his presentation.
Fulmer said he's been working to get past the university's decision to fire him last fall after a 5-7 2008 season.
"We all realize that we love the university very much, but it really can't love you back," he said. "It's bricks and mortar and there's people that make decisions along the way and sometimes they're the right decisions and sometimes they're the wrong decisions.
"We're going through getting past all of that."
Fulmer, who spent 17 seasons as Tennessee coach, worked briefly as an analyst for ESPN and CBS during bowl season and has spent time visiting collegiate and pro programs "studying Xs and Os and philosophies" to prepare him for any future coaching jobs.
Fulmer led the Vols to a national championship, two Southeastern Conference titles and seven East Division crowns while winning nearly 75 percent of his games in 17 seasons.
He's the 44th winner of the Neyland Trophy. Previous recipients include Michigan's Lloyd Carr, Nebraska's Tom Osborne, Georgia's Vince Dooley and Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant.
He said he's enjoying the "sabbatical," spending time with his family and pursuing his hobbies, such as hunting and fishing, but still wants to coach again.
"My doors are wide open right now to what I might do," he said.