Mac Engel

Fulmer crushes Witten rumor to Tennessee and praises his former 'defensive end'

If you are tired of the Jason Witten overkill, blame the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas Stars. Or Texas Rangers.

Or Jerry Jones.

These are lean times in our professional sports pasture that is permeated by the undeniable scent of cowflop.

In the past 10 years, the Dallas Stars have have two playoff appearances but six head coaches. The Mavericks eagerly await news where their lottery ping-pong ball will land them in the NBA draft. And the Rangers are led by a 44-year-old pitcher as they breeze along in last place in the AL West.

Another Jason Witten story won't kill us.

His former college coach, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, has a few, including a flat denial that Witten was ever offered to be the next head coach of the Volunteers, as was preposterously "reported" last fall.

"No, that never happened," said Fulmer, who is UT's athletic director, in a phone interview. "Now, we did have a good conversation about what it would take to be the head coach at Tennessee, but he was still very much interested in playing at the time. I will tell you this - I don't doubt he could do it. He's a great leader and smart as a wiz. He would surround himself with good people. But, no, we never talked about him doing that."

Witten wanted to coach, but when ESPN offered him a reported $4 million to $5 million to be the lead analyst on its Monday Night Football telecasts, there was no decision.

"Coaches work a lot of hours," Witten said during the news conference where he formally announced his retirement.

Fulmer also said that as of Monday, the decision to retire was not final. Witten was close, but he was not all the way there yet.

"When we talked on Monday, you could tell he was really struggling with this," Fulmer said. "He is such a loyal guy. He did not want to let anybody down. ... I am so proud of Jason. The career he had. The Hall of Fame career. How he did it. He made the most of his opportunity and now is a good time to move on."

Witten played for Fulmer at UT from 2000 to 2002.

Fulmer is the college coach who gave Witten his first, big opportunity, only originally tight end was not part of the discussion. Witten was to be a defensive end. He wanted to follow in the path of Reggie White, and other dominant Volunteer rush ends.

Fulmer went so far as to promise Witten during the recruiting process he would be a defensive end at Tennessee.

"When he got to school, and fall practice, we had all of these injuries and our depth at tight end was a concern so I asked him if he would consider moving to tight end," Fulmer said. "I thought because of his size and speed he would be a good player at tight end."

Ask is a nice way to put it. Fulmer just moved Witten to tight end.

"He really got mad at me. He didn't speak to me for a few weeks," Fulmer said.

"There was not a route he couldn't run, but if I had to pick a play it was the one against Michigan," he said.

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