October 28, 2008

Fulmer addresses uncertainty

In a season that largely has gone to the dogs, Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer opted for a more subdued approach in his Tuesday press conference rather than the animated, defiant demeanor that followed last month following a blowout-loss to Florida.

"I'm not a dog that barks and then runs into the house. I'm going to do my job on a daily basis, or bark from inside the house," said the Vols' embattled coach. "I'm going to do my job and do it the right way. That's all, there's only so many hours and only so many things you can fix at one particular time and lay my head on the pillow at night and know I've done it and done it right and had a lot of success doing it. Would I have done it differently? Sure I would, looking at a couple things."

While Fulmer declined to list any specific things that could have been changed, he indicated there had been discussions with offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Tennessee's offense, which has averaged just 16.5 points per game (including defensive touchdowns) against BCS-level competition, ranked 11th in the SEC's latest scoring, rushing and total offensive statistics.

"There's no reason to get into all those things, but things that coach Clawson and I sat and talked about," Fulmer said. "We would've probably done differently a little bit. … Or something in the kicking game."

While Fulmer almost systematically outlined his resume as Tennessee's coach during his 30-minute press conference, Vols defensive coordinator John Chavis addressed the matter within minutes of taking the podium.

"Well, there's a lot of things you could say and one would be not to answer the question, but I'm a big boy," Chavis said when asked of the uncertainty surrounding Fulmer's future at UT. "Certainly I look at a man who's won 150 ballgames and done some things at this university that hadn't been done before and done it with class. Certainly the way it's supposed to be done. I'm not going to deal with speculation; whatever happens, happens. I'm getting paid well to do what I'm doing and I'm going to go out and bust my rear-end and do everything I can to help this team and coach Fulmer be successful.

"When you look at the success … But you have to understand that speculation is speculation. There's a lot of, I guess, sources, untitled or unknown sources. It's easy to stand back and make those kinds of statements about unknown sources or sources that aren't going to be revealed. I'm not going to be caught up in that. My focus is helping this football team and helping coach Fulmer prepare this football team to be the best it can be. And that's our goal. That's been our goal the 17 years I've been with him, and that will continue to be our goal. I couldn't be any prouder to be working for Phillip Fulmer right now or at any point in this time."

Fulmer made it clear he would focus on the task at hand -- finding a way to get a win at South Carolina Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2) -- but dismissed the "chatter" that has surrounded his future at Tennessee.

"That would be the first thing I said, we try to focus on the objectives rather than the obstacles," said Fulmer, who overall is 150-50 as UT's coach but is just 27-19 since the 2005 season. "Every day you go to work to try and figure out how to win a football game. So much of what is 'chattered' -- as you called it -- other places is misinformation that you don't even bother paying attention to. Win enough games … my charge is to run a clean program and I've done that, to teach young men about life and leadership and academics and I think we've done a good job of that, and win more games than we lose, and we've done that.

"In the short term, it's not where anybody wants it to be starting with me. I'm just going to go to work and do the very very best I can for the Tennessee family."

Facing mounting pressure for a season that has failed to meet any of the team's preseason goals and includes losses to the Vols' three biggest rivals for the third time since 2002, Fulmer was asked how he would convince Tennessee's fan base that the program has reason for hope moving forward.

"I do think there was a bit of a transition in an (new) offensive system, more than I could ever imagine but we're through that," Fulmer said of an offensive staff with four new coaches but 10 returning starters. "We're well through that. We're not making mistakes the system caused, now we're hopeful we're more established at quarterback, we have a good number of young guys that are really talented players that everybody's excited about. Sophomores and Freshmen and some juniors.

"If you count all that recruiting stuff, we've got the No. 7 recruiting class in the country (according to Rivals.com), going through what we're going through. If we can hang on to those guys and add to it a little bit, there's a lot. We're in that age of instant gratification and what have you done lately, and I understand that."

Sophomore quarterback Nick Stephens, who assumed the offense's reins once Jonathan Crompton was benched for his ineffective play, acknowledged it has become increasingly challenging to remain focused.

"It's tough. Everything is tough right now," said the Flower Mound, Texas, native. "This season has not gone the way anyone wanted it to go. It's hard to put all the focus on this one game, but we have to do it. We know in order to win out we have to win this one."

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