152 wins and only 52 losses. Six SEC Eastern Division titles, two SEC Championships and the BCS Championship in 1998. All of this happened under the tutelage of head coach Phillip Fulmer. He remains one of the heroes of Tennessee football lore. But he didn’t do it alone. All the coaches, the trainers, the various men and women that supported the Vols program – Fulmer’s success would not have been without them.
Even with all of those wins, it’s easy for Fulmer to dwell on those games that just didn’t go the Vols’ way. Case in point, the 1998 Orange Bowl that pitted Tennessee against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska’s strong defense held star QB Peyton Manning to a season low 134 passing yards and forced two turnovers that resulted in a pair of touchdowns. The Volunteers lost the game 31-17.
“I respected (Nebraska) very, very much and that was probably the only team that physically we didn’t manhandle in a long time,” recalled Fulmer. “We had to get ourselves in a better place. We needed a little motivation for everybody to step it up a notch.”
Enter strength and conditioning coach John Stucky. Stucky had a long career, most notably the seven years he spent under Fulmer. “He made it a physical offseason for (the) guys,” remembered Fulmer. “This is because we had just played against a really good physical football team.”
Stucky’s motivational techniques were effective, even if a little outside the box, according to Safety Fred White. “(Stucky) would walk into the training room or the weight room and he had on a Nebraska jersey,” said White. “He walked around with (it on) and shaking it in front of (us). I can’t believe he made us go harder because of those things.”
Stucky’s influence and coaching was paramount to White’s collegiate success, in both football and his academics. “I love everything Coach Stucky brought to the table,” said White. “I don’t know if I’m still in school without (him). I remember him telling me if you run one more time at practice because you missed class, I’m going to add weights to that sled. If I missed again, he would add a 45lb weight.”
Stucky was so much more than one of Fulmer’s coaches. “(He) was one of my best friends ever. We lived together at (their first job) Wichita State for five years… my first hire at Tennessee was John Stucky.”
Fulmer continued, “(Stucky’s) an unbelievable person, father and husband. But golly, he could get you ready to play. And he was just subtle enough to be able to do it emotionally, too.”
In his impressive career, Stucky was twice selected SEC Strength Coach of the Year and in 1996 he was named National Collegiate Coach of the Year by the Professional Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society. He retired in 2001, after the Vols won the Eastern Division Championship. Stucky passed away in 2007.