KNOXVILLE — Phillip Fulmer returned to Tennessee as athletic director with a single directive: unify Vol Nation.

“Our athletic program’s history is a bond that connects students and alumni, fans and the Tennesseans who support our great university,” Fulmer pleaded for unity as he was introduced as AD. “The success of our student-athletes in all sports is a source of inspiration, pride and unity that we must have as an athletic department and that fosters energy, an example of success at the highest level.”

Pieces are in place for unification to come quickly.

The most public step in that direction will be hiring a winning football coach, someone capable of turning the program around to its once elite winning ways in the near future.

Following a week of chaos, former players are grateful for Fulmer stepping in and requesting to come together.

Former UT running back Jabari Davis told Saturday Down South that the recent chaos is “really shocking and sad at the same time that it took the past week’s shortcomings of a horrific mess to find a guy that should have been in the (AD) position in the first place.”

But despite the shortcomings, everything works out for a reason. Davis says having Fulmer step in and make decisions gives the program immediate “back bone” because “you do not have to go on Twitter every minute to see what is going on and live on the edge.

“You now have a leader that you know for a fact that is going to make the right decision and get the program where it needs to be, we all know if Coach Fulmer was the AD from the beginning we would never be in this position.”

Fulmer is also working the recruiting trail like he once did as a coach in attempt to save the upcoming class and potentially sway decommits to come back.

For former Vol offensive lineman Michael Munoz, seeing Fulmer recruiting takes him back to when he was in high school, growing up in Ohio.

“Michael, you were born a Buckeye, but you can become a Volunteer by the grace of God!” Fulmer told Munoz on the recruiting trail before he made his college decision.

“When Coach Fulmer told me this while he was sitting in my family room as a senior in high school, he said it with such conviction and pride I never thought for a second he was joking,” Munoz said. “From the first encounter with Coach Fulmer, I knew he was fully committed to two things – excellence and the University of Tennessee.

“Over the last few years I have been waiting for someone to come in at the head coaching position and win for Tennessee. I feel myself constantly saying, ‘we have a ton of talent, but we just need to win.’

“It’s been a struggle to keep positive, but I have put on a good face because I bleed orange. Last week as the chaotic storyline unfolded it never occurred to me that bringing Coach Fulmer in as AD was in the realm of possibilities. In fact I texted him to ask about the mechanics of the craziness and get some perspective from someone I absolutely trusted.”

Munoz says of the reality of Fulmer actually stepping in as AD “as the day went on and the rumors grew to confirmations” he sent another text telling him, “I’m praying for you during this next chapter.”

The former lineman said that the excitement he had as a player “returned and has a renewed hope in Tennessee’s return” to excellence.

“With Coach Fulmer now at the helm, I trust every decision will be in the best interest of Tennessee and the new standard under the Fulmer regime will be excellence.”

Munoz’s gratefulness of Fulmer stepping in has echoed through many more VFL’s, including former running back Aaron Hayden.

Hayden says that “all of the former players are ecstatic simply because Fulmer is a single force that can bring people together.”

“That is what his specialty is,” Hayden said. “As much as we were split, he is the perfect guy right now to put everything back together.

“I think it is great for the situation that former players, current players and the administration can trust Coach Fulmer in what he wants to do because we know we can trust that he will make the right decision in finding the next coach. I think we all would like for a Tennessee guy to get the job, but the right guy is the most important thing and Coach Fulmer will make sure that guy is the right guy for the job.”