"You go back to the great optimism everybody had in August and how excited everybody was about our football team," he said recently. "It's up to me to do a complete audit. We've done a lot of good things and had a lot of success before this year. So, you go back and look and say, ‘Why did things change? Why did we lose 6-3 (to Alabama)?"
After replaying all 11 games in his mind, Fulmer now admits the Vols weren't as disciplined or as detail-oriented as they needed to be.
"As you study it, it goes back to individual drills, individual meetings, getting the message across as far as discipline and consistency," the head man said. "I don't think it was that we didn't play hard or that we didn't have great work ethic."
Basically, he thinks the Vols bought into the hoopla about how good they were going to be in 2005 and conveniently forgot how much hard work is required to reach such lofty goals.
As Fulmer put it: "This season reflects some of the assumptions that were made: ‘Oh, we're going to have a good football team,' and we didn't take care of the little things well enough as a team."
Attending to "the little things" is the specialty of new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. That's why Fulmer thinks the Vols will be much more disciplined and team-oriented in 2006.
"David has lots and lots of strengths, but that's one of them," Fulmer said. "That's one of the things I'm most excited about, as far as getting those things back on track. We want everybody to have the same attitude – team first, selflessness and those kinds of things."
Tennessee's offense was wildly inconsistent in 2005. The Vols occasionally proved capable of driving smartly down the field for touchdowns. They also proved capable of stupid penalties, lapses in concentration, dropped passes, sloppy execution and drive-killing turnovers.
"If we're consistent for 75 snaps, we're going to have a chance to be successful," Fulmer said. "They're not all going to be great plays, but the inconsistencies (of 2005) led to the close losses, which led to the season.
"If we just do some better – disregarding the injuries and the tough schedule – we're not in the predicament we're in right now. But we're going to battle out of it, I promise you."