Fulmer's post-2000 mark unimpressive

Phillip Fulmer is still the winningest Division 1-A college football coach with at least 10 years of service, having won 77 percent of his games.

He's ahead of South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (.766), Florida State's Bobby Bowden (.762), Michigan's Lloyd Carr (.758) and Penn State's Joe Paterno (.748).

But the decline in his effectiveness over the past eight years has been alarming to Tennessee fans.

Through 1998, Fulmer was 67-11 (85 percent winning mark). Since then, he's 70-30. If you take what amounts to his first seven full seasons, he's 74-12 (87 percent). Since then, he's 63-29 (68.5 percent). And he's lost five of his last seven bowl games.

Fulmer's primary SEC coaching rivals now are Spurrier, Urban Meyer at Florida, Mark Richt at Georgia and Nick Saban at Alabama.

Many anti-Fulmer fans point to his 7-16 (.304) record against those four coaches as ammunition that he should be fired. He's 4-8 against Spurrier, 2-4 against Richt, 0-2 against Meyer and 1-2 against Saban.

But is Fulmer's 4-8 record against Spurrier that pertinent, considering Spurrier isn't at Florida anymore? No. Fulmer is 1-1 against Spurrier's Gamecocks. That's a more accurate gauge.

Spurrier doesn't have the same talent at South Carolina as he did at Florida, so there's no reason to think in the future he'll win two out of three games against Fulmer.

While Fulmer is 2-4 against Richt, he has won two of the last three, both on the road when Georgia was a top 10 team.

Fulmer has not gone against Saban while at Alabama.

Fulmer is 0-2 against Meyer at Florida.

The more accurate mark would be Fulmer's record against those coaches at their current schools.

That would be 4-7, including 2-6 against East Division rivals Richt and Meyer. That's not very good, but it's more relevant. (By the way, Fulmer is 24-23 against active SEC coaches.)

Now, if Fulmer loses to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina this season, he won't be Tennessee's coach much longer.

But if he wins three of those, he likely will capture the East Division title. And then his record against his current rival SEC coaches won't be that significant.

AINGE NOT BOTHERED BY OVERRATED TAG

Vols quarterback Erik Ainge said he isn't bothered that a college football writer for Sporting News called him one of the two most overrated players in the nation.

``I don't need someone telling me I'm overrated or underrated or I need to do this or do that,'' Ainge said.

``I know what Coach Fulmer and Coach (David) Cutcliffe have said I need to do to get better and that's what I'll address. That's my motivation. He (Cutcliffe) said that's being called out. I just kind of laugh: `All right, whatever.' And do my thing.''

CUTCLIFFE REMEMBERS 1994 OPENER

The last time Tennessee opened the season in the state of California, it was a disaster for the Vols.

The year: 1994.

Quarterback Jerry Colquitt suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first series. Todd Helton was ineffective. True freshmen Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart were thrust into action.

Helton returned to rally UT but the Vols lost at UCLA 25-23 after trailing 18-0.

Cutcliffe well remembers what transpired. That's why he's determined to have more than one quarterback healthy for the Sept. 1 opener at California. And that's why he wanted his quarterbacks to be workout warriors.

Cutcliffe believes the stronger you are as a quarterback, the less apt you are to get injured by blind-sided hits from 300-pound defensive linemen.

Cutcliffe likes the way Ainge has redefined his body into a solid 225 pounds.

``He's going to look pretty good on the podium,'' Cutcliffe said. ``He'll understand his endurance and ability to stay healthy will change. You earn that.

``Peyton Manning hasn't started all those games in a row (in the NFL) because he doesn't work hard in the offseason. That's just brand new for Erik.''

On that topic, Cutcliffe knows it's important to get backup quarterback Jonathan Crompton ready because Crompton is only a play away from being the man.

``I see a big difference in Jonathan, a huge significant difference,'' Cutcliffe said.


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