Spurrier not jabbing at faltering Fulmer
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 5:52 pm
By: By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Through most of the 1990s, games between Phillip Fulmer’s Tennessee Volunteers and Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators helped decide Southeastern Conference championship and national titles.
On Saturday, the two winningest active coaches in the SEC will be playing for the inside track to fourth place in their division.
While the Vols are two losses away from missing a bowl for the second time in four years, Spurrier’s South Carolina team heads into November a loss away from a third straight non-winning SEC season.
It’s far from the salad days when either Spurrier or Fulmer was on the sideline for the first 10 SEC title games. Back then, Spurrier with his 7-3 record against Fulmer while at Florida could crack “you can’t spell Citrus without U-T,” pointing out how frequently the Vols had to settle for a second-tier bowl because they were looking up at the Gators in the standings. Fulmer has gone 2-1 against Spurrier’s South Carolina teams.
At his news conference Tuesday, Spurrier said he’s read that Fulmer has been the target of critics, his job possibly in jeopardy, but the ol’ ball coach didn’t want to talk about that.
“I got my own problems here. I don’t need to get in anybody else’s,” said Spurrier, whose 100 SEC wins ranks fourth all-time, two spots ahead of Fulmer’s 96 SEC victories.
For the first time in their 14 games against each other neither team is in the Top 25. Spurrier’s goal this season is a top three finish in the SEC East as he continued to try to build a program that has exactly the same number of wins and losses in 116 years of football.
Fulmer said his team executes worse than any he has had in his 17 years with the Vols.
Both coaches have struggled with their offenses. The Vols have started two quarterbacks, switching to sophomore Nick Stephens in the fifth game. South Carolina has had three starting QBs. Freshman Stephen Garcia is set to make his second start, but Spurrier said he won’t hesitate to switch.
South Carolina has the worst running attack in the SEC at 100 yards a game, while Tennessee is just one spot better at less than 114 yards a game.
Fulmer hasn’t talked much about his future. He said he is proud his team keeps playing hard even as typical Tennessee goals such as SEC titles or New Year’s Day bowl games fade away.
“I still think that’s the right attitude to take — is to make sure that we are focusing on our objectives and not the obstacles and not kind of delve down into the negativity,” Fulmer said.
Spurrier has his own theory on what has happened in Tennessee. “Some of those teams in the 90s, they had a whole bunch of first, second-round NFL picks on those teams. I don’t think Tennessee’s quite had that many … lately,” he said.
Fulmer has heard rumblings about his job before. Last season, the Vols were 4-3 going into their game with South Carolina and blew a 21-0 halftime lead, falling behind by three with 1:54 to go before tying the game on a 48-yard field goal and winning in overtime when the Gamecocks missed their own field goal. They would go on to win six of their last seven, earning the SEC East title and getting Fulmer a new contract worth an average of $3 million annually over the next seven seasons.
“He got a new contract last year, so I thought, certainly, that coach Fulmer would be safe for several years to come,” Spurrier said. “But I don’t know anything more than that. Just what you read in the paper.”
Spurrier also knows Tennessee remains a formidable team in the minds of South Carolina fans. The Vols are 14-2 against the Gamecocks since they joined the SEC, including 2-1 against Spurrier.
“It would be very good to beat teams that have beaten you a whole bunch, that’s for sure,” Spurrier said.