UT's winning combination

Between 1995 and 1998 Tennessee's football program posted a 45-5 record, a .900 winning percentage, two Southeastern Conference titles and a national championship. Players came and went but one thing remained constant: Phillip Fulmer was head coach, David Cutcliffe was offensive coordinator and John Chavis was defensive coordinator.

The triumphant trio broke up following the '98 season, when Cutcliffe left to become head coach at Ole Miss. Tennessee promptly posted a 61-26 record, a 70.0 winning percentage and zero SEC titles over the next seven years.

Cutcliffe's return for 2006 has restored the triumphant trio and, just maybe, restored Tennessee to prominence in college football. With Cutcliffe's offense clicking and Chavis' defense sticking, the Vols hammered No. 9 California 35-18 in last Saturday's opener. Fulmer noted a lot of positives, including the return of the coordinators who led UT to dazzling heights from 1995 through ‘98.

"Defensively, we played really well, the first half especially," Fulmer said. "We were flying around making a lot of plays. The effort was outstanding."

That wasn't surprising, though. Chavis' troops routinely fly around and give great effort.

"John consistently does a fantastic job," Fumer conceded. "He's great at adjusting during the course of the game, getting a feel for what the other offense is trying to do. We're always fundamentally sound, from a scheme standpoint. He's very demanding of his players, and they respond to him very well."

Still, Chavis' troops had to share the spotlight with Cutcliffe's gang, which also produced some memorable moments in Game 1.

"Offensively, we did good job staying in the down-and-distances we wanted to stay in," Fulmer noted. "We had very few wasted plays in the ball game. We had some big plays … some explosive plays. We had very few of the silly penalties that stop drives."

The improved discipline might be traced to the arrival of Cutcliffe and two of his former Ole Miss aides, Matt Luke (tight ends) and Kurt Roper (running backs). They replaced Randy Sanders, Jimmy Ray Stephens and Pat Washington, respectively.

Fulmer conceded that he "made some staff adjustments we needed to make" following the 2005 season, adding that "The kids have been very, very responsive" to the new aides.

The offensive players certainly responded against Cal. They played much better in Game 1 of 2006 than they did at any time in 2005. The reason may be Cutcliffe.

"He doesn't get ahead of himself," Fulmer said. "He crosses the Ts and dots the Is. He communicates well and he doesn't change his philosophy. He's just a heck of a football coach."

Asked what Cutcliffe does differently than other coaches, Fulmer hedged a bit.

"Everybody has their own style and own way," the head man said. "David is going to build a foundation and not get too far out of those parameters along the way. He's a teacher. He understands how to teach."

So does Chavis. As a result, the Vols took the Golden Bears to school Saturday evening, building a 35-0 lead before calling off the dogs.

"For the first game," Fulmer noted, "it was good for the offense and defense."

And, no doubt, it was good to have Chavis and Cutcliffe together again.

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