Life after Sanders

Randy Sanders said last Saturday he thought there might be staff changes at Tennessee.

I didn't realize at the time, he was talking about himself.

Even before Tennessee teed it up against the Gamecocks, Sanders was contemplating resigning.

It's been a frustrating season for Sanders, Tennessee's offensive coordinator since the 1999 Fiesta Bowl national championship game.

The offense has had trouble finding an identity. It hasn't consistently execution all season. The Vols are 108 in the nation in scoring offense, 99 in total offense and 98 in rushing offense. Counting points generated only by the offense, UT is averaging 11.4 points per game.

Earlier, I dismissed some of those numbers because of the quality of competition. But after watching the offense struggle against South Carolina, it wasn't just the opponents. It was Tennessee.

One year after doing a fabulous job, Sanders had trouble pushing the right buttons. He was unlucky. When he dialed up a good play, the receiver would drop the pass, the quarterback would miss his target or a running back would fumble.

And sometimes, I felt he wasn't patient enough with the running game.

UT fans get tired of hearing it, but the Vols are just two plays away from probably being 5-2 - a fumble at the goal line against South Carolina, a fumble at the 2 at Alabama.

But they were two plays away from winning just eight games last year instead of 10, so that can cut both ways.

I feel for Sanders. He's a good man. He's taken too much blame for Tennessee's woes this season. He didn't have a good year, but he didn't deserve some of the insults hurled by some classless Vol ``fans.''

I'm convinced Sanders didn't have enough help from his offensive staff, but perhaps some of that was his own undoing. Perhaps he should have told Fulmer he needed more help. Perhaps Sanders was being too loyal to the position coaches who work under him. Perhaps Fulmer should have stepped in and make some changes without Sanders having to request them.

Sanders wasn't asked to resign. He initiated it. He went to Fulmer after the South Carolina and offered his resignation. Fulmer and Sanders met again at length Sunday. Twice, Fulmer talked Sanders out of leaving immediately.

Had Sanders quit with four games remaining, it likely would have been difficult for him to remain in the college coaching profession. In that respect, Fulmer might have done Sanders a favor in helping Sanders keep open his future options.

So, Sanders will remain as quarterbacks coach and leave the playing calling to Fulmer and other staff members. Something tells me, however, that Sanders might have more to do with the play calling that anyone else. Fulmer hasn't called plays in 14 years. And, apparently, Fulmer wasn't confident enough with anyone else on the staff to turn over those duties.

Sanders told me last night he wasn't sure if he wanted to stay in college coaching. He didn't rule out coaching in high school. He didn't rule out a career change.

But he did say: ``I'm at peace with everything because it was my decision.''

The fact that Fulmer twice talked Sanders out of leaving right away is an indication Fulmer didn't plan to fire Sanders at season's end.

I think Fulmer's hope was to bring back David Cutcliffe as assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator, turn over the play calling duties to Cutcliffe, move Sanders to running backs or receivers, and have the two work in tandem as they so well in the 1990s.

That won't happen now. Sanders won't coach again at Tennessee.

Will Cutcliffe return? If his health allows and he doesn't get a head coaching job elsewhere, yes.

For UT's sake, Cutcliffe needs to give an answer sometime in December. He should have an idea about potential head coaching jobs. If he's doesn't get a chance to run his own program, he'll get a chance to run Tennessee's offense.

So what does Sanders do?

He wants to fish and hunt in the fall. That would rule out coaching. But if he stays in coaching, don't be surprised if he winds up in the NFL. Some NFL teams have shown an interest in the past, something Sanders hasn't publicized. He could get a head job at a smaller college. He could coach at high school team.

But if he wants to hunt and fish in the fall, he'll have to change professions.

``My father retired when he was 68 so he could do some things he always wanted to do,'' Sanders said. ``Now, at 75, he's too old to do those things.

``I don't want that to happen to me.''

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