Fan Frustration

You're a Tennessee fan. You're frustrated.

You're team is struggling and you think the game has passed by your coach.

The previous two seasons, your team went 9-2 and 8-1. But then, they went 5-5 and 4-4-2. Your coach had won a lot of games over the years, even won SEC championships and a national championship.

But you're a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of guy. You want championships. You want results. You're convinced the coach can't turn around the program. You want your coach out.

Congratulations. You just fired Gen. Robert Neyland. You just fired him before he won two consecutive national titles - 1950 (Dunkel Index) and 1951 (consensus).

Neyland had back-to-back .500 seasons in 1947 and 1948. Given a chance to turn things around, he did.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is 3-5. He won 10 games each of the past two years. He was ranked No. 6 at the end of the 2003 regular season and he played for the SEC title last season.

But several vocal UT fans want Fulmer out. They claim he's lost control of the program, his offensive system is outdated, he has no discipline and he's lost his fire.

No doubt, this is Fulmer's worst season at Tennessee. No way should a team with this talent be 3-5. No way should it be this inept on offense.

But Fulmer has earned the right to right the ship. He should be given a chance to put the pieces back together.

You could argue that he should have made some staff changes earlier. But you can't fire a man a year after he's won 10 games in consecutive seasons.

If Fulmer has a losing record this season, he should have a chance to rectify the situation. If Tennessee has another losing season, Fulmer is in trouble.

Fulmer needs a quick fix. And that's why he'll turn to close friend David Cutcliffe to run UT's offense next season, provided Cutcliffe doesn't get a head coaching job. Cutcliffe likely will be available because a school isn't likely to take a chance just yet on hiring a man who had triple bypass surgery in the spring.

Cutcliffe would surely be interested in helping a friend like Fulmer and a program he loves like Tennessee.

But, contrary to reports, Cutcliffe has not been negotiating with Fulmer for a contract. On Tuesday, Cutcliffe denied the report and told me he hasn't talked to Fulmer since the Notre Dame loss on Saturday.

He did say: ``I'm 99 percent sure I'll get back in coaching if the right opportunity comes along.''

If Cutcliffe is hired, he would have a say on who to fire and hire on the offensive staff. He might even try to talk Randy Sanders into staying as a receivers or running backs coach. Based on my previous conversations with Sanders, I don't think he'd accept. I think he wants a fresh start somewhere else.

How quickly does Fulmer need to make a decision on a new offensive coordinator? By early December.

Cutcliffe should know by then if he's got a shot at becoming a head coach.

If Cutcliffe is not available, where does Fulmer turn?

He said Tuesday he wouldn't rule out raiding the NFL. NFL coaches have had an influence on college defenses, particularly in the SEC. Why not hire an NFL offensive mind to help counter the NFL-influenced defenses in the SEC?

Two former UT coaches in the NFL are Doug Marrone (New York Jets) and Kippy Brown (Houston Texans). The most prominent UT name among college coaches is Daryl Dickey, quarterbacks coach at Florida State.

Regardless of who Fulmer hires as offensive coordinator, you can bet at least one more change will be made on the offensive staff.

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