Fulmer Trying To Stay King of Rocky Top

HOOVER, Ala. -- Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer might be a lot of things, but he isn't oblivious.


He knows that in order to remain as king of Rocky Top, he can't lose four games in a single season -- even if that's viewed as a major step forward from the previous year.
"I'm not silly. I know that our expectations are high because we created those," Fulmer said Friday afternoon on the final day of the Southeastern Conference's football media days in the Wynfrey Hotel.
"I also know I just got a contract extension. The athletic director (Mike Hamilton) gave my coordinators three-year contracts, (my) assistants two-year contracts."
Fulmer isn't necessarily on the hot seat entering the upcoming season, but it certainly has gotten a lot warmer after losing 10 games over the past two years. That's the most losses the Volunteers have endured over a two-year span since Fulmer took over in 1992.
But you don't become the SEC's longest-tenured coach by accident. It takes luck, talent and plenty of support from the administration.
Despite the recent struggles, Fulmer received a two-year contract extension in March, though the deal didn't include a pay raise. He's under contract through the 2013 season, making $2.05 million per year.
But there has been talk this offseason that Fulmer needs to get the Volunteers back to the level they enjoyed in the late 1990s when they won two SEC championships and a national title.
"Nobody -- you or the fans -- wants to win a championship more than I do," Fulmer told a reporter. "Nobody. We're going to work like heck to make that happen."
Fulmer thinks he's heading in the right direction, though. That was perhaps evident by the playful tone of his news conference Friday afternoon. He cracked jokes with reporters and looked a lot more relaxed than he did last July.
At last year's SEC football media days, Fulmer had to field questions about a tumultuous 2005 season that was mired by multiple player arrests and a 5-6 record.
"(The) '05 (year) was a shocking football season to me as a head football coach and to our program," Fulmer said. "To our credit, the selfishness that had creeped in, the distractions that had come up, we have eliminated those things."
The general consensus among Tennessee fans is that last year's 9-4 record was a step forward, a sign that the Volunteers were getting back to normal. But it still wasn't up to their lofty expectations.
The Volunteers opened the season with a pair of big wins over No. 9 California and Air Force, but they lost the next week by one point to Florida -- the eventual national champions.
Tennessee struggled after quarterback Erik Ainge suffered an ankle injury late in the season, losing back-to-back games to LSU and Arkansas in November, as well as to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Tennessee's problems were exposed Nov. 11 on national TV when Arkansas jumped out to a big first-half lead and cruised to a 31-14 win in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"It was a struggle last year. We lost a lot of close games last year. The Arkansas game was a tough game for us," Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo said.
"But LSU and Florida, that wasn't because of Erik Ainge; that was because of the defense. We messed up and we made a mistake. We lost those games with one minute left in the game."
The Volunteers were picked by the media to finish second in the SEC East this season, and they received two votes to win the entire league. Fulmer understands those same expectations are shared by his fans.
"I don't have my head stuck in the sand," Fulmer said. "(I know) that we need to compete for a championship."
Or else, things could get interesting for Fulmer.

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