Saban hire bad news for UT

Phillip Fulmer's job just got even tougher. The hiring of Nick Saban as Alabama's new head football coach puts one more imposing obstacle between Tennessee's head man and the Southeastern Conference title.

Fulmer already had to face three of the NCAA's most respected coaches on an annual basis – SEC East foes Urban Meyer (Florida), Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Mark Richt (Georgia). Because Alabama is Tennessee's permanent Western Division rival, Fulmer now must face Saban every year, as well.

How daunting is the task of facing Meyer, Spurrier, Richt and Saban every season? Pretty darned daunting. Consider:

Fulmer's record against Spurrier (counting his days at Florida) is 4-8. Fulmer's record against Richt is 2-4. Fulmer's record against Meyer is 0-2. Fulmer's record against Saban (based on his days at LSU) is 1-2.

If you do the math, you'll see that Tennessee's head man now faces the annual challenge of beating four men against whom he has a combined record of 7-16.

As Vol fans no doubt recall, Fulmer's losses to Saban were particularly disturbing.

The first occurred in 2000, Saban's first year at LSU. The Vols were 2-1, ranked 11th nationally and coming off a 70-3 annihilation of Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers were 2-2, unranked and coming off a stunning 13-10 Homecoming loss to Alabama Birmingham. Even with quarterback Rohan Davey hampered by a sprained ankle, LSU shocked the Vols 38-31 in overtime.

Tennessee avenged that loss by beating LSU 26-18 in the 2001 regular-season game at Knoxville but Saban handed Fulmer the most devastating setback of his career in the SEC Championship Game two months later.

Tennessee was 10-1, riding a seven-game winning streak and ranked No. 2 nationally. Fresh from beating Spurrier in his final home game as Florida's head coach, the Vols were one win from playing in the Rose Bowl for the BCS national title. LSU, 8-3 and ranked No. 21, wasn't given much chance to win, especially when quarterback Davey and star tailback LaBrandon Toefield suffered injuries that would sideline them for the entire second half.

With Matt Mauck and Domanick Davis filling in for Davey and Toefield, however, the Tigers outscored the Vols 21-3 in the second half, turning a 17-10 halftime deficit into a startling 31-20 victory.

So, pardon Phillip Fulmer if he isn't doing handstands in response to Bama's hiring of Nick Saban. The Vol head man's challenge just got even tougher.

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