Tennessee turnaround

His team is coming off a 5-6 disappointment in 2005, yet Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer knows that a dramatic turnaround from one year to the next is entirely possible. He knows this in part because he just watched the Vols' other revenue sport do it.

The Big Orange basketball team, coming off a 14-17 disappointment in 2004-05, went 22-8 this season, won the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division title, achieved a top-25 national ranking and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32.

The fact the hoopsters went from awful to awesome in one year proves such a transformation is possible. Naturally, you wonder: Might Fulmer use the basketball program's turnaround to motivate his own troops?

"I haven't used that at this point," he said recently. "But they're certainly to be admired because of what they've accomplished."

The hoops transformation began with the addition of some new blood. The Basketball Vols brought in a new head coach (Bruce Pearl) and four new assistants (Tony Jones, Scott Edgar, Jason Shay and Ken Johnson).

The football program seems to be following a similar blueprint. The new blood consists of an offensive coordinator (David Cutcliffe) and two first-year aides (Matt Luke, Kurt Roper). In addition, two holdovers (Trooper Taylor, Greg Adkins) have been assigned new positions.

Although the situations facing UT basketball in 2005-06 and UT football in 2006 are similar, they are not identical. For instance, the basketball team had a senior and four-year starter (C.J. Watson) running the show. Conversely, the football team will have either a junior part-time starter (Erik Ainge) or a redshirt freshman (Jonathan Crompton) running the show.

Another key difference: The Basketball Vols had struggled four years in a row before breaking loose in 2005-06. By comparison, the Football Vols had a 10-win season just two years ago.

"You've got a group of upperclassmen (in basketball) that struggled for a period of time," Fulmer noted. "It's not exactly the same."

Still, the football coach says it's entirely possible he'll use the 2005-06 Basketball Vols to illustrate how quickly and dramatically a program can turn itself around in just one year.

With a nod, Fulmer said: "Certainly, we could use it along the way."

The coaches of UT's two biggest men's sports seem to get along quite well. Fulmer said he and Pearl talk "every few days." In addition, Fulmer showed up at several basketball games during the just-ended season, routinely sitting directly behind the Vol bench. The football coach seems very supportive of the basketball coach. So, how solid is their relationship?

"It's good … really good," Fulmer said. "I have a great respect for Bruce and what he's accomplished here. It's a great compliment to him and his team."


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