Fulmer will never Beat Florida Again

Two calls in the first half of Florida's latest demolition of Tennessee tells you all you need to know about the future of the series. With his team up 17-0, Urban Meyer faced a 4th-and-3 in Tennessee territory. Rather than send Jonathan Phillips out to attempt a 35-yard field goal, Meyer went for it.

A penalty nullified what would have been a successful conversion and Meyer still wound up with a field goal, but the message was sent. The Gators were not just out to beat Tennessee, they were in Knoxville to destroy them.

With 12-seconds left in the half, Fulmer faced a choice of his own. Tennessee faced a fourth down at the Florida three. A chip shot field goal would at least get them on the board, and they would have a chance to build off that momentum by getting the second half kickoff. Instead, Fulmer opted to go for the touchdown and saw his desperation rewarded with a Janoris Jenkins interception. It was reminiscent of 1996, when Fulmer tried to match Steve Spurrier's 4th-and-11 gamble (with Danny Wuerffel finding Reidel Anthony for the game's first touchdown) with a fourth down conversion attempt of his own near midfield early in the game. Florida stopped it, and the rout was on. Both decisions were classic Fulmer - reacting to the other guy rather than sticking to his gameplan.

If Fulmer coaches another decade worth of games against Urban Meyer, he will lose all ten of them. He's tried everything there is to match up with Florida's coach, and nothing has worked. This game, Fulmer tried to emulate Mark Richt's successful stunt against the Gators last year by going out of character and talking trash. The typically conservative Tennessee coach vowed at a pep rally the Vols would "kick Florida's butt". He brought Al Wilson, the heart of the 1998 championship team, back to address the players with what was described as a fiery, inspirational speech. The result of all this bravado: a 24-point loss where Tennessee was never in the game.

What's left for Fulmer to try? He has a new offensive coordinator, but the most innovative new look the Volunteers can show is a package of running plays with an athletic wide receiver at quarterback. That's groundbreaking stuff - for 1994. When was the last time you watched a Tennessee game and were impressed with the way they out-schemed the other team?

Four straight losses to UF, the last two by a combined 63 points, give little indication that Tennessee is even competitive. Florida's talent is only increasing as Meyer piles up top class after top class, while Fulmer's recruiting has been spotty the past four years. Last year's Eastern division title in a year when the Volunteers lost to Florida by 39 and Alabama by 24 inexplicably convinced Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton Fulmer needed a big raise and a contract extension. With Tennessee staring down the barrel of a 3-5 start to their season, Hamilton would get contributions from other SEC school's fans to help pay for another one.

Tennessee is a tougher place to be head coach than any of the other elite SEC positions. Florida, Georgia, LSU and Alabama all have impressive talent pools to draw from in their own state, while the Volunteers do not. Since 1992, Fulmer has done an excellent job of landing enough quality players from outside Tennessee to make up for that gap. When he was coaching against people like Mike Dubose, Jim Donnan and Ron Zook that was good enough for sustained success. The caliber of coaching in the conference is now the highest it has ever been, and the reality for Fulmer is that he has not been able to keep up. What the Gators domination Saturday drove home again is there's no reason to suspect he ever will.

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