'Cut' next UT boss?

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe enjoys coaching at the University of Tennessee but he wants to be a head coach again. What if he could have his cake and eat it, too?

Think about it: Phillip Fulmer runs the Vol program two more years, rights the ship, then retires at age 57 and passes the torch to Cutcliffe, his good friend and most trusted aide.

If you're laughing, you shouldn't be. It could happen.

Fulmer has put in 14 years as a head man. He has the winningest record of any active NCAA coach with at least 10 years' experience. He has a solid legacy that includes a national championship. He has more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes.

That's the good news. Here's the bad:

He has a program with a so-so recruiting base, forcing him to spend an incredible amount of time on the road. He has three daughters he has scarcely seen the past decade and a wife he speaks to mostly by cell-phone nine months out of the year. He has a rebuilding job ahead that may require more energy than he has left to give. He has the look of a man who was drained – physically and emotionally – by a devastatingly disappointing 2005 season.

Fulmer is too proud to step down while his program is down. He's determined to bounce back following his first losing season ever. With Cutcliffe's help, he should be able to post winning records in 2006 and 2007. That would allow him to leave the program in the same general health as he found it back when he took the reins in 1993.

Whereas Johnny Majors was the logical successor to Bill Battle in 1977 and Fulmer was the logical successor to Majors in '93, there is no clear-cut heir to the throne once Fulmer vacates it. That's why UT brass may have already promised the job to Cutcliffe. He knows the administration, knows the program, knows the expectations, knows the recruiting demands. In short, he knows the lay of the land … just as Battle, Majors and Fulmer did when they were hired to oversee the program. This knowledge gives Cutcliffe a significant advantage over anyone else the Vols could hire to succeed Fulmer.

One more thing: When Cutcliffe was introduced as coordinator last month he reiterated his desire to be a head coach, then added that Tennessee was the "only place" he'd consider being an assistant.

Perhaps it's because Tennessee is the only place he could have his cake and eat it, too.


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