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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

MEMPHIS -- A $340 million Neyland Stadium renovation plan that now spans the tenures of several Tennessee athletic directors remains in the works, but Phillip Fulmer indicated Tuesday that he is approaching the project with some caution.

"Yeah, I'm new to this, and I want to make sure we're being responsible in what we're trying to do," Fulmer said. "We have a construction manager that's an architect that's looking at designs and things. Where we're going to go remains to be seen. There are definitely needs there. Again, needs that we need to address."

Fulmer is on a tour of one type this month, as he reunites with Tennessee fans around the region as part of the Big Orange Caravan in his first year as UT's athletic director.

His remarks on the Neyland Stadium project came Tuesday night in the caravan's second stop. Before he waded into a crowd of hundreds at the Agricenter, he hinted at another tour he plans to take as he adjusts to his new role on the Tennessee campus.

Fulmer suggested that he plans to visit other Southeastern Conference schools to examine their athletic facilities as he learns more about the Neyland Stadium plan and eyes a renovation to Lindsey Nelson Stadium, the home of the baseball Volunteers.

"I'm taking a tour this summer," Fulmer said. "We've got some expansion going on, some development of our (Neyland Stadium) south end zone -- what we're going to do there -- and get some ideas in football. Also, as a man, I'm looking at some baseball ideas as well."

Fulmer's immediate predecessor, John Currie, received approval from the university's board of trustees last November for a revamped version of the Neyland Stadium renovation that expedited the process from three phases to two with a goal of having the first phase completed by the 2021 season. That will be the 100th year in Neyland Stadium's history.

"That's personal for me," Currie said at the time.

Fulmer replaced Currie as athletic director on Dec. 1. At Fulmer's introductory news conference, university chancellor Beverly Davenport said the university "absolutely" planned to proceed with the Neyland Stadium project.

"We would have never brought forward a project that we didn't feel was needed," she said.

University president Joe DiPietro ousted Davenport earlier this month.

The transitions in leadership could slow the Neyland project from the pace Currie envisioned.

The openness that Fulmer expressed to renovations at Tennessee's baseball stadium Tuesday also represent a public shift in thinking from Currie's stance on the matter at last year's Big Orange Caravan.

Currie, who hired first-year Vols baseball coach Tony Vitello, said during last year's caravan that there were no concrete plans for renovations to Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

"What we've got to do is exactly what Coach Vitello is doing right now on the recruiting trail," Currie said at the time. "We've got to generate a little bit more enthusiasm and win some ballgames."

Fulmer spoke highly of Vitello on Tuesday. The Tennessee baseball team needs to win a series at Missouri that starts Thursday in order to qualify for next week's SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala.

"He is so much fun and so intense," Fulmer said. "He's young and energetic and he's learning kind of as he goes in some ways. He loves to recruit. If we can somehow, some way figure out a way to get a couple games this weekend, we've got a chance to go to the tournament, which with that group of kids as young as they are would be dynamic."

And Fulmer seemed to indicate that it's only a matter of when, not if, Lindsey Nelson Stadium will receive upgrades under his watch.

"We've got some work to do," Fulmer said. "There's not any of our facilities, except for baseball, that are not up to par. Certainly, we have needs and wants. Everybody has needs and wants. There's a difference in needs and wants. Now, in our baseball situation, it's something we are addressing."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.

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