"It does," the head coach said. "Professionally, I've never been through anything like this as the head coach. I've been through it (as an assistant) in 1988 (when UT started 0-6)."
The closest thing Fulmer has experienced as a head man occurred in '94, when senior quarterback Jerry Colquitt suffered a season-ending knee injury on the seventh play of the opening game. That left UT to rely on a little-used backup QB named Todd Helton and a couple of raw freshmen named Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart. As a result the '94 Vols lost three of their first four games.
Despite the awful start in ‘94, that team rallied to win seven of its last eight games. It finished with a flourish, hammering Kentucky 52-0, Vanderbilt 65-0 and Virginia Tech 45-23 in the Gator Bowl. Conversely, the 2005 team doesn't have time to make a dramatic turnaround. With just three regular-season games left, the best it can hope for is to salvage some pride and earn a bargain-basement bowl bid.
Since this team was ranked No. 3 in preseason, its inexplicable demise has a lot of fans frustrated. Fulmer can relate. He's frustrated, too.
"It's a terrible feeling," the head man said. "You want people to be proud of you – not just me but the staff, the team and everybody. You want people to say good things about you and have that good feeling of walking off the field with a great win."
The 2005 Vols haven't experienced that "good feeling" since beating Ole Miss 27-10 on Oct. 1. A lot of factors have contributed to the current four-game losing streak but Fulmer says lack of effort and lack of talent should not be listed among them.
"We've played really hard," he said. "It's been very unusual … some of the ways things have happened that cost us games. That adds to the frustration. If you just said, ‘Well, they're a lot better than us. You got your can kicked,' that's one thing. But that hasn't been the case with this season. It's been a lot of our own doing and injuries and some things. It's really been frustrating.
"It is like a bad dream. That's probably a good way to describe it."
After a pause, the coach flashed a pained grin, then added:
"Somebody wake me up."