Coach Fulmer talks about starting the season 1-2 and how to overcome the mistakes they've made as an organization. Watch »
Coach Fulmer addresses the topic of negative comments regarding his coaching and the Vols' playing ability following the loss to Florida and the effects that it has on the players. Watch »
Last Saturday, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer sat behind a table inside Neyland Stadium and took responsibility for the Vols’ 30-6 loss to No. 4 Florida.
Behind that same table on Tuesday, Fulmer responded to mounting fan and media criticism and pledged that his team would bounce back from a lackluster start and perform better Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) at No. 15 Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC).
“We didn’t all of a sudden get stupid as coaches,” said an animated Fulmer during a 30-minute press conference. “We know what we’re doing, and we’re going to go to the practice field and correct and work and put our football team on the field with the best advantage that we can possibly have.”
Fulmer’s players also responded to building criticism of their coach from fans, who have become increasingly vocal in their displeasure after a fourth consecutive loss to Florida and a 1-2 start for the second consecutive season.
Wide receiver Gerald Jones was perhaps the most outspoken.
“You know who’s real fans when things go wrong,” said Jones, a sophomore. “There’s a lot of things that say, ‘Fire Fulmer’ and ‘Get (Jonathan) Crompton out of there and put Jones at quarterback’ or ‘the receivers can’t win one-on-one’ and ‘(tailback) Arian (Foster)’s not running physical.’ I’m not worried about that. They might as well be Florida fans because they’re saying the same exact thing.”
Jones was incredulous about fans’ discontent with Fulmer.
“Firing Fulmer? Come on now,” Jones said. “He’s one of the winningest coaches in the NCAA. They ain’t going to fire that man. He’s not going anywhere. It’s really no big deal. We’re not even focused on what people have to say. We’re focused on Tennessee.”
Senior wide receiver Josh Briscoe, normally reserved with the media, spoke up in defense of Fulmer as well when asked how fan criticism of Fulmer affects players.
“It makes us mad as a team,” Briscoe said. “Everybody seems to know how to coach. Everybody seems to know how to fix situations. But the real fact is, if everybody had all the answers this world would be a completely different place. Everybody doesn’t have the answers. Everybody’s not given the ability to coach football, to play college football, to be president of the United States or whatever it is. That really hurts because we dedicate our lives to this.”
Fulmer said he hopes the criticism doesn’t distract players.
“Hopefully they’ll listen to the voices of experience and not somebody that’s got a job to do, as (the media does), or got a personal interest because they had a $5 bet on the game or whatever the heck it is,” he said. “They should listen to the right people, and that’s the people who have been there and done that: Our leadership on our team and our coaches.”
Fulmer, who was asked twice by callers on his weekly radio show, Vol Calls, Monday night what it would take for him to resign, also responded to the mounting criticism.
“I don’t pay much attention to it,” he said. “I don’t listen to any talk radio. I don’t listen to any news. I don’t read the newspaper. I go back to work. I don’t have my head in the sand, either. I know I’m not happy, so how in the heck is anybody else happy?”
Fans voiced their displeasure with boos in Neyland Stadium during a 35-3 victory over UAB and at various points in Saturday’s loss to Florida.
“Because somebody boos in the stands doesn’t mean you don’t have the support,” Fulmer said. “That just means they’re passionate about what they do. They just want to win. Ninety-five percent of them probably never played football before, or maybe not played a sport. … I would have booed a couple things I saw out there if I’d have been in the stands.
“That goes with the territory when your fans and your people are passionate about what they want to see on the field,” Fulmer continued. “I wouldn’t have it any other way from that standpoint. Now, do I like to be booed? No. Do I want to be booed again? No. But if I stay in this profession, you don’t think I’m going to have an opportunity to get booed? That just goes with the territory.”
There are, however, things Fulmer wants to see change.
Fulmer said the Vols do not have a problem with effort, leadership or attitude, terming the Vols’ woes a “consistency of execution problem on offense from time to time.”
Last season, the Vols rallied from a 1-2 start and played in the SEC championship game, UT’s fifth appearance in the last 11 years.
“All I know is we’ve played for the championship more times than anybody in this league except for Florida,” Fulmer said. “(Former Florida) Coach (Steve) Spurrier had a great run right there. We know what we’re doing. We’ll get back where we need to be.”
Whether that happens this year will be determined in the next few weeks. After facing Auburn, the Vols travel to No. 3 Georgia and host No. 8 Alabama before the end of October.
“There’s plenty of ability to be a good football team,” Fulmer said. “Whether we can play for the championship or not, it just depends on the darn backbone that we have as a football team. We’ll find out a lot about that over the next few weeks.”
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.