The Fan Revolution That Changed College Football
This excerpt is part of an exclusive interview with Allan Jones, Founder and CEO of Check Into Cash and Tennessee Donor, conducted by Celina Summers on October 18, 2018. This interview, like all the others in the interviews section has not been edited or adapted in any way.
Allan Jones hails from Cleveland, TN where he was a championship wrestler during high school. He has since become a prominent philanthropist, donating generously to the University of Tennessee, collegiate and high school wrestling teams, and the public library in Cleveland among others. He is the principal donor for the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT.
Summers: What did you think of Currie’s managerial style?
Jones: Well he was part of firing Phillip Fulmer and when you fire Phillip Fulmer you fired the cook for a bad hamburger that wasn’t his fault, ok? I could see through that right away. And have you figured out why they fired Phillip Fulmer?
Summers: I have been sifting through that. I’ve heard a bunch of different stories.
Jones: Is Hamilton willing to talk to you?
Summers: Have not heard. From what I understand there was a power play involved. That involved some boosters, some you know, like mega fans around the program.
Jones: That wanted rid of Fulmer? Well Celina, he called me, I guess ten years ago this week, or next week. When they fired him. My phone rang at 7 am in the morning. When Fulmer calls you at 7 am on Monday, I thought someone had died. I didn’t know what had happened. He told me he had been fired, and it was just devastating to me. And Janie (Jones’s wife), Janie and I, he wanted us to come there while he tells the team and Jane and I drove up there and it was…
I was in there but I felt like I shouldn’t have been in there. We were in the dressing room, and then we went to Phillip Fulmer’s house and he was a wonderful host. It’s like a funeral, and the body is walking around serving the food. It was an odd feeling. Because his whole life had been there (at UT) and I knew what had happened. I lived it. I saw it. I couldn’t get the aquatic center built; I can’t imagine needing some help with a student. Nobody to help. There’s no big toe on the foot.
Summers: I live in Ohio and I watched that farewell press conference and I seriously had to question for a few weeks, especially after they hired Kiffin, it’s like, “Man, he (Fulmer) has been loyal to the school for forty years, I don’t know if I can support them after this.”
Jones: Phillip has a magnetic personality. He’s the warmest. He’s a girls’ Daddy.
Summers: He’s a charmer.
Jones: If we hadn’t have fired him, he and Nick Saban would be the two biggest celebrities in football history right now, I’m pretty sure.
Summers: I agree with that.
Jones: And he’d be going neck to neck with him.
Summers: I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. What do you think about the vindication of Coach Fulmer? They fired him 2008 mid-season in a pretty classless move and then they have to turn to him last year to salvage the situation.
Jones: Exactly. There wasn’t one other person in this world that could’ve saved us but him.
Summers: I agree. And I said that at the time. Like, as a story, what does that make you think about when you think about them bringing Coach Fulmer back?
Jones: Well, I mean I was rocking along with this thing and I did not care for Currie. But I had loaned them my plane. Kurt Gulbrand (associate UT athletic director) called. Do you know Kurt?
Summers: No I don’t.
Jones: He’s an assistant AD. This is Sunday I guess, in November. It’s a winter day. I was taking a winter nap when Kurt Gulbrand called me at home and said. “I’ve talked to Bill. We’ve hired a coach, we need your plane.”
My plane was on charter and he wouldn’t tell me who it was—which, I didn’t ask. I’ve always respected their confidentiality. And he wouldn’t even tell me where they were going except it was two and a half hours away.
So finally I hung up and then finally I called him back and I said, “Wait a minute Kurt. Two and a half hours away in a Falcon 900? That’s the other side of Utah. I need to know about where it’s going.”
He said, “We’re going to Columbus, Ohio.”
So I called the plane up and they’d just left Philadelphia so they were in mid-air. I transferred that plane to Columbus, Ohio…I mean…I redirected it.
And then about fifteen minutes later, I get a call from Kurt and he says, “All hell is breaking loose. I’m not sure what to do. The students are lighting up the… they’re burning the dumpsters around the stadium and we’re planning to bring this coach back and announce it at 8 o’clock on Sunday night!”
And I said, “Why are you going to do something at 8 o’clock on Sunday night when no one’s paying attention?”
He said, “We were going to bring him back to the stadium but all hell is breaking loose.”
And I said, “Well you better ring John Currie.”
I’ll never forget this. He said, “Mr. Currie is in a real bad mood. I don’t want to call him and tell him.”
I said, “Oh, God.” I’d been asleep, but now I’m dealing with…
I said, “Look, you cannot allow that coach to come back here into a riot!”
And then he told me it was Greg Schiano. And remember, he hasn’t told me who it was. I don’t know how the word got out but in fifteen or twenty minutes, word had got out on the internet.
It’s a new world right now, you understand? Because whoever they hire, there’s a base out there that can respond in twenty minutes with a national voice on the internet. And I saw that happen.
So now I’ve got my plane entering into a major controversy with my name on the side and so I wasn’t sure what to do. I don’t pay attention to that. I didn’t know Schiano. I didn’t know why they (fans) were rioting. I had no idea but it got worse and worse and Kurt could not reach Currie at the time.
So then he called back and said he’d heard from Currie and they have a… no, let me correct that… they redirected it (the plane) in the air, that’s right. They redirected in the air from Philadelphia. It was going to Knoxville, to pick up a charter client and I redirected it to Columbus. He (Gulbrand) called back and said that they’d had a contract snag.
I said, “Well, I’m going to go redirect it back to Knoxville, pick up our client, take him. The flight’s going to Birmingham and then we can be on the ground in two and a half hours. He said, “That’s fine.”
So in the meantime, when all hell breaks loose and then he calls me back and says, “I don’t know what to do, they’re burning down the school.”
And I said, “You’ve got to call Mr. Currie.”
And he says, “I hate to call him. Mr. Currie’s in a real foul mood.”
And I said, “You’ve got to call him. You cannot allow…”
And he told me it was Schiano. I said, “Why are they rioting?”
And he said, “I think he’s a…”
What was it, a pedophile? I don’t know anything about it. I just know I was asleep and an hour later I’m in a big controversy with my airplane. I didn’t know if they were going to attack the plane once it landed, you know. So I was on the phone with Bill Lane like: “I gotta get out of this mess.”
Finally Curt called back and said, “I’ve found another plane that can pick us up a little quicker, is that okay?”
And I said, “Yes, but you gotta make sure he understands what he’s coming into.”
So Kurt called me back again and said, “The whole thing is off.”
And this is about five o’clock. Probably three hours had passed and I still didn’t get to go back to sleep *laughs*.
Summers: Did you follow the uprising as it was going on online?
Jones: Well, no. I don’t do all that, but Bill Lane my chief financial officer did. He was watching it, and he was reporting it all to me, because I just don’t even know how to do that. You can tell I’m pretty technical but I don’t care to do that. I don’t care what people are saying.
Summers: Social media is not your thing.
Jones: No, I don’t care about all that. Anyway, and then we get this fiasco going on. People from all over the country was calling… I have never seen a major university screw up so bad in my life.