Coach Fulmer's last game
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Tennessee Stat Book
After claiming a 28-10 victory over Kentucky in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night, Phillip Fulmer left a winner.
And even though he would have chosen a different time to make his exit as UT's football coach, it would be difficult to find a more suitable ride.
The old offensive lineman who played the first significant snaps of his career on the same field nearly 40 years ago was carried off it, game ball in hand, on the shoulders of a pair of his offensive linemen.
"That was actually Anthony Parker and Ramon Foster's big idea, but we all talked about it," center Josh McNeil said. "Those two guys are the seniors up front and they wanted to do it. I think it's very fitting for two offensive linemen to carry coach Fulmer off the field."
Said Fulmer: "I don't know if I can describe it."
Despite the fact that Saturday's game was billed as Phillip Fulmer Appreciation Day, Fulmer said afterward he didn't want the game to be all about him.
"I didn't want it to be about me," he said. "I'm not trying to be noble when I'm saying that because I really felt like our guys needed to be focused on the game and the preparation and getting themselves in position to play well. If we did that, then everybody was going to be more pleased."
Fulmer addressed a packed media room for nearly 20 minutes after the game, reflecting a bit on UT's 5-7 season before he begins to reflect in earnest about his future after Tennessee.
One possible opportunity that has been mentioned is Clemson, which fired Tommy Bowden earlier this season.
On Saturday, Fulmer said Clemson is the kind of place he would like to coach if he coaches again.
"This is a very special place and it would take a special place for me to go to," Fulmer said. "Being unemployed right now, I'm interested in those kind of jobs, because that's a special place."
Fulmer again said he's been advised to take his time and perhaps take a year off, but he didn't rule out the possibility of coaching somewhere else next year.
"Certainly if it's the right place and it has the same kind of passion that the Tennessee people have - and I felt like I could have the same kind of passion there that I've had here - certainly that's something that I would look at," Fulmer said.
Fulmer declined to say if Clemson had contacted him as part of its search.
"They've got an interim coach (Dabo Swinney), and I think he won today," Fulmer said.
"I think that very well may be what they choose to do. If that's the case, then I think it's probably what the good Lord is telling me. I do believe when one door closes, and another one opens. If that's not the one that's open, there'll be one somewhere - if I choose to do that."
Fulmer also talked about UT's underclassmen, saying they'll adjust to a new regime, which will begin this week with the pending announcement of former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin as the Vols' new coach.
"To me, they ought to win every football game next year," Fulmer said, smiling. "How's that for putting pressure on the new guy?"
Fulmer also couldn't help but wonder aloud what might have happened if UT hadn't lost early games against UCLA and Auburn.
"People don't like to hear this - and I don't like to say it, necessarily - but a couple of fumbles and an emotional thing with Wyoming, we just won our eighth game," Fulmer said.
"They'd have to give me a raise and extension. Wouldn't that have made them mad?"
For defensive end Robert Ayers, the prevailing feeling from Saturday's game was that a season that went wrong in many ways ended on the right note for players and coaches.
"I feel like that's how a legend should go out," Ayers said. "On top."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.