Fulmer's fumble

When Tennessee's football team won the 2004 SEC East title with a freshman quarterback and a youthful defense, Vol coaches and players alike were confident that 2005 was going to be a banner year.

Perhaps they were a little TOO confident, which would explain how a team ranked No. 3 in preseason limped home with a 5-6 record. At least, that's the impression head coach Phillip Fulmer left on a recent episode of the "Head Coach" TV series.

"I think we probably assumed a few too many things – coming off an Eastern Division title, having a lot of guys back, No. 3 in the country in the preseason and so on," Fulmer told series host Doug Malousis. "We just did not play up to our potential, and we gave up just enough plays to get beat."

On the heels of 12 consecutive winning seasons, Fulmer also believes Lady Luck turned her back on Tennessee in the fall of '05.

"We've been fortunate from time to time," he said, "but (that) year we could not buy a break."

UT athletics director Mike Hamilton, interviewed as part of the "Head Coach" profile on Fulmer, recalled the 2005 season this way:

"A lot of times we ... sort of start taking things for granted somewhere along the way. And, every now and then you kind of get smacked in the face and you have to look in the mirror and say, 'All right, what just happened here? What are the lessons I'm going to learn from this experience?

"Certainly, in a football analogy, you don't want to get smacked with a 5-6 season. But I think that was a smack in the face for us ... a wakeup call to realize how fortunate we have been with all the success we have had."

Coming off that 2005 disaster, Fulmer knew he had to rally the players in 2006. He could not allow them to lose faith in him or lose confidence in themselves.

"You can't blink," he said.

One thing Fulmer learned from the '05 season was how "blessed" he was the previous 12 years that "we had never had one of those seasons as a head coach."

Oh, yeah. He says he learned one other thing from his first losing season:

"I have discovered that I never want to have another one."

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