Spurrier vs. Fulmer, Round 2

He is the NCAA's winningest active coach on a percentage basis, yet Tennessee‘s Phillip Fulmer has a 3-7 head-to-head record against Steve Spurrier. So, Fulmer was less than thrilled when he learned the former Florida Gator coach was returning to the Southeastern Conference – this time as overseer of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

"When I first heard he was coming back, I said, ‘Ah, crap,' or something like that," Fulmer confided during Wednesday's session of SEC Media Days in Birmingham.

The surprisingly candid response drew laughter from the assembled reporters. After noting that "We didn't beat him enough in there (1990s)," Fulmer continued to praise his arch-rival.

"He's an interesting personality … a dynamic personality," the Vol coach said. "I think he very much knows that he's got a real demanding job in front of him (rebuilding the Gamecock program), but if anybody can do it, he can."

The comments seemed strange, considering the history of the two men. Spurrier's sharp tongue angered Fulmer several times during the 1990s. Once he noted that "You can't spell Citrus without UT," a snide reference to the fact the Vols were relegated to the Citrus Bowl during much of the ‘90s, while Spurrier's Gators were competing in the Sugar Bowl as SEC champs. Another time Spurrier expressed enthusiasm about being paired with Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt in a celebrity golf event, adding: "She wins championships." Fulmer finally retaliated by referring to Spurrier as "Coach Superior."

The bad blood of the past seemed to be a faded memory Wednesday in Birmingham, however, as Fulmer called Spurrier "a great football coach and great competitor…. You go back and look at him winning the ACC at Duke. That's a big-time accomplishment. Obviously, he will make them (Gamecocks) very competitive quickly."

Fulmer couldn't resist tossing out one good-natured barb, though. When asked what advice he'd give to the league's four new coaches, the Vol skipper grinned broadly.

"I'm not going to give any advice to Steve," Fulmer said. "He's got all the answers anyway."

Later, Spurrier was asked about his predecessor's "Ah, crap" comment. The Carolina coach quickly dismissed the idea that Fulmer – or any other SEC coach – is worried about facing the Gamecocks.

"We need to beat somebody first before those guys are going to worry about South Carolina," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we can get a little respect but we have got to earn it. We have got to beat some people. We can't just say, 'Spurrier is coaching South Carolina.' That's not going to mean much to (opposing) players."

Wednesday's events in Birmingham suggest there is a kinder, gentler Spurrier … and a more relaxed and forgiving Fulmer. The question is: Will the apparent truce last beyond their Oct. 29 clash at Neyland Stadium?


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