"For the rest of the season I think we've got to use that for motivation," senior guard Cody Douglas said. "To a man, I think everybody feels the way I do. Everybody feels bad about it. We've just got to find a way to pull together and focus, put together a good game and close out this season on a positive note. We need to put together some good numbers for him. We owe him that much."
With Tennessee's offense struggling to score points all season, Sanders took a lot of heat from fans in recent weeks. Tennessee players say the blame lies with them, not the outgoing coach. Calling Sanders "the fall guy," Douglas noted: "He hasn't taken one offensive snap this entire season."
Sanders told the players shortly before Monday's practice that he had resigned as offensive coordinator and would step aside as quarterbacks coach at season's end. Many Vols were stunned. Most were moved.
"It was one of the hardest days I've had since I've been here, and I've had some hard ones," Douglas said. "It's very difficult knowing I'm part of the (offensive) unit that was responsible for it. You can't go around cutting players, so he kind of fell on the knife. I don't necessarily think it was fair, but it happened, so you've got to go on."
Told the players blame themselves for Sanders' resignation, head coach Phillip Fulmer frowned.
"That shouldn't be the case," he said. "It is what it is. The first person … I'm accountable. There's been an unfortunate chain of events. Some injuries, the penalties, the turnovers and those kind of things is what got us. Everybody shares in that responsibility."
Informed that several players are determined to play their hardest as a show of support for the departing coach, Fulmer replied: "How do you not play really hard for someone you love and respect?"
Whether the resignation has a positive or negative effect on UT's performance Saturday in South Bend remains to be seen. Some of the Vols seem downright devastated about Sanders' impending departure.
"I feel very bad for him, feel bad for his family," Douglas said. "He's a guy I have great admiration and respect for. I feel confident in his coaching ability. I think he's a great coach and a great person, but obviously I'm not the one making decisions around here.
"And I'll be gone next year, so I don't think anybody cares too much what I have to say about it."