Sanders speaks out

Former Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said changing coaches isn't the answer for turning around the football program. Changing discipline is.

In an exclusive interview, Sanders pointed to a lack of discipline as the major problem for the Vols' horrible 5-6 season. And he said player misbehavior didn't just crop up this season.

``I don't think just changing coaches is going to make a difference,'' Sanders said. ``I don't believe that. I think it goes much deeper than just changing a few coaches. The talent is there, the ability is there.''

When Phillip Fulmer hired David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator, Fulmer said Cutcliffe would be more demanding on players in practice and would bring more discipline.

Asked his reaction, Sanders hesitated, then fired: ``I don't know that I could have been more demanding or more disciplined in what I tried to do.''

Notice, Sanders said in what he tried to do. In other words, he wasn't get much help on the discipline front.

Sanders continued: ``I think there are some areas that need some improving on offense. But it's not just offense. There are a lot of things on the team, whether it's during practice or team travel or going to the movie or offseason or whatever it is, there are a number of things that need to be addressed.''

Sanders is clearly alluding to player misbehavior. The Vols had some 13 arrests in a 16-month period. Several players acted, according to a movie theatre official, like ``idiots'' on a Friday night movie trip before the Memphis game. Fulmer said it was only four or five players. Others, including team officials and movie personnel, put the number at closer to 25.

A few years ago, team captain Omari Hand missed curfew, missed the team bus to practice, missed the team photo, yet started the Peach Bowl. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the team?

Sanders never called Fulmer out on the lack of discipline, but it was clear he feels there is a lack of leadership at the top.

``Football players are like your children -- when you tell them something, you've got to back it up,'' Sanders said. ``You can't say, `Don't do that,' and if they do it, you can't turn your head. You've got to be consistent with them. You can't say, `Don't wear headphones on the (Vol) walk,' and if they wear headphones on the walk to the stadium, not do anything.''

Sanders said the lack of accountability off the field carried over to the field. He said you can't let players get away with things off the field, then tell them ``take a step with your right foot when you block on this play and if they don't step with their right foot, be upset that they didn't do that. It all goes together.

``The only way is to be consistent, say what you mean and mean what you say. And don't say it unless you really mean it and you're going to back it up.''

Sanders wouldn't have mentioned that if it wasn't going on. He never called Fulmer by name, but could it be more obvious?

Asked if he were saying there's a lack of discipline on the football team, Sanders said no. But the more he talked, the clearer it became - that's exactly what he meant.

``I think there have been listening problems on the team,'' Sanders said. ``It's not just this year. It's been going on for years. The type season we had magnifies those things.

``The discipline part: There's no question the discipline needs to improve on the football team. But I don't think it's just a statement that can be made just toward the offense or one area in particular.''

Sanders was upset when assistants Pat Washington and Jimmy Ray Stephens were fired the night after the win at Kentucky.

``It bothers me a lot,'' Sanders said. ``That's part of the reason I resigned, so hopefully that wouldn't happen to anybody else. I said at the time, I couldn't stay in that job hoping I kept my job and letting somebody else take the fall for it.

``I stepped up, tried to take responsibility for it. I felt like I did. Whether it was all my responsibility or not didn't matter to me at that time. I always believed if you're in charge of something, you take charge of it and you take responsibility for it. So that's what I tried to do. I was saddened and disappointed to see Jimmy Ray and Pat get fired.

``I think they're excellent football coaches but even better people. Pat Washington and I had been together 10, 11 years. Jimmy Ray is a really quality person and a good football coach. We won't be working together any more, but we'll always be friends. That's what really matters in life, the friends you make and the relationships that last.''

Inside Tennessee Top Stories