Sanders denies rift with Fulmer

Tennessee's offense is underachieving for the second year in a row, and many fans are pointing fingers at head coach Phillip Fulmer and/or offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. One popular theory holds that the two are not on the same page in terms of offensive strategy -- Fulmer wanting to run and Sanders preferring to pass.

''I've heard the comment that Coach Fulmer and I are on different pages,'' Sanders said. ''Nothing could be further from the truth. As long as I work for Coach Fulmer, we're going to do it the way he wants to do it.''

That statement seems to hint that Fulmer is in charge of the offense and Sanders merely carries out the head man's wishes. But Fulmer said his involvement in the offense this year is ''about the same as in past years.'' No more. No less.

''I'm as frustrated about some of the things that have happened to us as Randy is -- or the entire offensive team, for that matter,'' Fulmer added. ''I do think we're on the same page. I have the ability to change calls as they go through but I don't do that very often. I have in the past on both sides (offense and defense). We've done that for 12 years.''

There are rumors that a rift exists because Fulmer favors the running game and Sanders prefers the passing game. Sanders suggested this is not the case.

''Coach Fulmer just wants to win, and that's all I want to do,'' he said. ''I don't care if we score touchdowns running or throwing ... as long as we score touchdowns.''

Deservedly or not, Sanders is catching a lot of heat for the Vols' offensive failures this season. The Vol aide isn't happy about this but says it goes with the job.

''Everybody likes to be approved of in what they're doing -- whether you're coaching football, playing football, writing for a newspaper, doing radio or whatever,'' he said. ''You like for people to think you're doing a good job. That's just human nature.

''But I grew up playing quarterback, and when you play quarterback, you're going to get too much credit when things are good and too much blame when things aren't good. Playing quarterback is great preparation for being an offensive coordinator here.

''Is the criticism hard sometimes? Yeah, it's hard sometimes. Does it bother me that much? No. I think it's harder on my wife, my mom and my dad than it is on me because I kind of expect it. And I'm on the inside and know what's going on here, so it's easier to shrug some of it off.''

Regardless of who's to blame, Tennessee's offense is not functioning very well lately. Fulmer concedes as much, but says the offensive schemes that worked for UT in the past will work again once the Vols' execution improves.

''In the past we've led the conference in total offense and scoring,'' the head man said. ''But right now we're not hitting on all the cylinders we need to be. We're not making many plays outside of what the blocking gives, as far as a running back coming out of there and making a great play. We're having to do everything the hard way, and it's hard to do it the hard way all the time.

''And we've been our own worst enemy with penalties. It's one of those years that it seems like the worst time it (a penalty) could happen, it happens.''

For example, a holding call nullified a potential 59-yard touchdown pass from Casey Clausen to C.J. Fayton that would've given the Vols a 7-3 first-quarter lead in the Georgia game. Tennessee wound up losing 41-14.

Though disappointed, Fulmer vowed that neither he, his staff nor his players is discouraged by the recent offensive woes.

''You've got two choices,'' he said. ''You can throw up your hands and give up or you can keep fighting. We'll keep fighting until we fight through this thing.''

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