Fulmer Remembers Florida/Tennessee Rivalry

One of the most unusual sights at Saturday's Florida/Tennessee game will be that of Lane Kiffin as the Head Coach on the Vols sideline. For the past 17 years Phil Fulmer patrolled the sidelines for Tennessee against the Gators before his dismissal late last season.

The dismissal came less than a year after Fulmer received a contract extension for getting to the SEC Championship Game and winning a bowl game.

Fulmer is still upset at the folks running things in Knoxville, but when he sat down to talk with me he wanted it to be clear that he would always be a Vol. Between his playing, assistant coaching and head coaching year Fulmer spent more than 30 years on the Knoxville campus.

What Fulmer and I talked at length about was his memories of the Florida games he coached in. His record against the Gators was just 5-12, but that's more wins than any other SEC Coach can claim against the Gators over that time period.


LV: For so many years the Florida/Tennessee game featured one and often two top five teams. What was it like to be part of games of such magnitude year in and year out?

PF: It was incredible. It was one of those things that were an unbelievable thrill just to be a part of it. (It's great) looking back at it now with all the great games and great players and great plays that they made. The highs were extremely high and the lows were extremely low and you just don't get that in every day life. The rivalry really came about because of divisional play and it was really unfortunate in the early years that both teams were so good and one of us had to miss the Championship Game. Several times we were on the short end of that stick.

LV: You coached in 17 of those games. Do you have one or two that stand out most in your mind?

PF: I guess you mean the wins?

LV: Well I figured those would be the ones you'd like to talk about.

PF: Well the 2001 game was probably the best. That was the game, you know when 9-11 happened and it was moved to the end of the year and it was for the championship. We went on to the Conference Championship Game and lost to LSU, which was a real downer. But to win the division that year was special because it was a great Florida team and it was a great Tennessee team as well.

Fulmer went on to talk about a particular game that still gnaws at him. It was the previous season in Knoxville.

PF: The other one that comes to mind immediately was the one that would have meant a lot to us if we had won it and it was in Knoxville. The guy dropped the ball in the end zone and they called it a touchdown. Gaffney (Jabar) was his name I think. That was a real downer there.

Fulmer stepped a few years further back in his memory bank for a pair of games back to back in which each team won once.

PF: In '97 we came here with another great team and Peyton (Manning) was a senior and we didn't get the win but it was a great football game. And we bounced back from that to win the division and won the Conference. Then the next year we have the overtime game in Knoxville and we kick a field goal and won when they missed it. MY daughter and I almost got killed by our own fans coming on to the field and everything.


Fulmer posted a 152-52 record in Tennessee with a pair of SEC Titles and the 1998 BCS Championship. However many in Knoxville were eager to make a change after the Vols went through their second losing season in four years while Florida and Alabama were among the best teams in the country.

Fulmer said he wants to coach again, but won't go to a school unless it has a chance to compete for championships in a hurry. I believe he would be a perfect fit for Memphis with his Tennessee heritage and the underachieving nature of that program under Tommy West. Of course I've also written many times that the Memphis job would be a perfect opportunity for Charlie Strong.

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