Before hiring him, Vol head man Phillip Fulmer sought assurances Cutcliffe could handle being an assistant again. Fulmer did not seek assurances Cutcliffe will stay a specific amount of time.
"I think it would terribly unfair of me to ask him (for anything beyond) his commitment for a year here," Fulmer said. "Hopefully, it'll work out for much longer than that. If there is that special job out there – that special opportunity – certainly we would all understand if he took advantage of that."
Cutcliffe has made abundantly clear that his plan is to be a head coach again. He says flat-out that he would not be an assistant anywhere except Tennessee … and he admittedly entertained some doubts about his ability to serve in that capacity with the Vols.
"Philllip and I have worked together 17 years," Cutcliffe said. "When you've coached with someone 17 years it's basically like living with them because of the hours and the camaraderie and the fellowship and the teamwork. We just had to make sure we were good. I had to ask myself if I was ready to go back to being an assistant football coach. I had to make sure I was doing the right thing."
Cutcliffe's determination to bide his time until a head coaching position presented itself didn't change until Randy Sanders resigned as Vol offensive coordinator following UT's Oct. 29 loss to South Carolina. Even then, Cutcliffe had to warm to the idea over a period of time.
"I was more in shock initially and more concerned about my friend, Randy Sanders, and his well-being and his family," he said. "I didn't think about it much initially. After a week or two, I started thinking about my future. Looking at the head coaching situations that were out there, it hit me: ‘If I want to coach, this is the place,' and this is the only place I would go as an assistant coach."
Fulmer understood Cutcliffe's reservations about returning to coaching as an aide, rather than as a head man.
"It was clear he had to work through some things … if he could be an assistant coach again," Fulmer said. "I asked him if he could be an assistant coach again. I told him I was beginning to gather other names and other people. And I did. I talked to a lot of head football coaches as to who were the guys in the different conferences all over the country and in the NFL. In the whole process I was very hopeful it would work out that David would (be comfortable as an assistant) and I would be comfortable enough that he could do it as an assistant coach again."
Cutcliffe served as Fulmer's offensive coordinator once before, 1993-1998, so many observers assumed the job was his as soon as Sanders announced his resignation. Fulmer says that wasn't the case, insisting he followed a "legitimate process" in searching for Sanders' successor.
Ultimately, that process led him to believe the best man for the job is David Cutcliffe … even if he stays just one year.