There is no doubt that discipline and teamwork were in short supply last fall. Receiver Kelley Washington irked some teammates with his showboating antics. Cornerback Julian Battle clashed with Fulmer on national TV during the Peach Bowl. Fullback Troy Fleming made a cell-phone call at halftime of the same game. One of the senior captains, defensive end Omari Hand, showed up late for a couple of team functions. Those are just a few examples of the ''me before we'' attitude that permeated the team at times.
''I learned (last fall) that in our program, it needs to be a team-oriented attitude,'' Fulmer said. ''We got away from that a little bit. We lost that a little bit. Not just Kelley but a number of different things that happened that weren't typically us.''
Fulmer has taken steps to tighten the reins since last year's 8-5 disappointment. He booted wideout Montrell Jones off the team for a failed substance test and he suspended fullback Ruben Mayes for the same transgression. He also persuaded tailback Gerald Riggs to get his academic mess in order. And those are just the actions that made the newspapers.
''There's things you all (media) would never know about or the public would never know about EVERY DAY that come up good and bad,'' Fulmer said. ''We've had a lot more -- A LOT MORE -- good things come up (in recent months) than bad.''
The head man senses a change in attitude among the players. Apparently, last season injured their pride and showed them they can't just show up on fall Saturdays and win on Tennessee tradition. The Vols appear to be more focused and businesslike than a year ago.
''I like their attitude,'' Fulmer said. ''I like that I can walk in and hit a computer button and there's almost no class misses, no tutorial problems. And we haven't had our names in the paper about too many things.''
Fulmer first noted this change in the team's attitude shortly after the Vols' season-ending 30-3 Peach Bowl loss to Maryland.
''They had a team meeting long before I even got back from recruiting,'' he recalled. ''They called it themselves and said, 'This is the way it's going to be.' That doesn't guarantee you one darned thing; you've got to go out daily and work to become a good team. But that's the thing they've done. Some kids have really improved themselves physically. And, certainly, they have a much better attitude about them.
''Are we going to miss the Eddie Moores and some of those guys? Yeah, but for the most part we're able to pick up the pieces. It looks like we're going to be better.''