Cornered Fulmer throws verbal jabs
Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 9:20 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Phillip Fulmer is fired up. He’s defending himself, his coaches and his struggling Tennessee Volunteers.
The coach, who had been trying to explain his team’s struggles since the 30-6 loss to Florida, told reporters Tuesday in his weekly media session that his Volunteers had no problems with leadership, effort or attitude.
He thinks his Vols merely need to try harder to fix the mistakes before visiting No. 15 Auburn (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday.
And yes, the Southeastern Conference East champs still can defend their title despite starting 1-2.
“We can play for the championship,” Fulmer said. “It just depends on the darn backbone that we have as a football team. We’ll find out a lot about that in the next few weeks.”
Fulmer also took his critics to task for questioning his and his assistants’ leadership.
“We’ve won 148 football games in my time here at Tennessee and lost a little bit less than that. A lot less than that, actually. We didn’t all of a sudden get stupid as coaches,” he said.
It’s the same kind of attitude that Fulmer, normally reserved after a tough loss, had last season when Tennessee was 2-2 and heading into a game with rival Georgia.
The Vols came out with a 35-14 win that they credited with helping them get back on track to win the SEC East.
The Vols say they’ve seen this more vocal side of their coach in recent years, especially after his talented 2005 squad went 5-6.
Fulmer’s experience during that 2005 season and last season is why his players have faith he will turn this season around, according to senior receiver Josh Briscoe.
“Coach Fulmer, he’s a strong leader. He’s a strong coach. He’s been here a long time,” Briscoe said. “We know that he’s going to lead us the way we need to go.”
Fulmer said he is pushing some of the Vols who already lead by example to become more vocal as well.
The Vols (0-1 SEC) need everything they can get to make this season turn out more like 2007 than 2005.
Sportscasters on the CBS broadcast of Tennessee’s loss to Florida last week questioned whether Tennessee had the necessary leadership to survive this season.
Defensive end Wes Brown said he’s trying to lead both by example and with his voice.
The junior said he considers seniors like offensive tackle Ramon Foster, defensive end Robert Ayers and linebacker Ellix Wilson as the team’s top leaders.
“I think each man himself can be a leader on the team, and that’s what we’re working on,” Brown said.
Wide receiver Gerald Jones, who mentioned Foster, running back Arian Foster and receiver Lucas Taylor as offensive leaders, said the leadership has come a long way since January.
During two months of the offseason, eight players were arrested or disciplined for breaking team rules.
“That’s when a few guys stepped up and challenged their teammates to shape up, Jones said, and it’s grown from there.
Jones said he knows it’s important to turn to guys like Ramon Foster when the Vols are in a hole because they’ve seen both the right way to turn around a team and to correct the mistakes they have been guilty of thus far.
“He’s been through almost every situation, so he can help us out in how to handle these situations and what to do when you’re 1-2 and your back is against the wall,” he said.
The proof will come only on game day.