Vols ignore negativity

Anyone who has turned to a Tennessee sports-talk show or message board in the past 72 hours knows the Vols' football program is a hot topic … and not in a good way.

Most Tennessee players shy away from the call-in shows and the message boards. Still, many are aware of the criticism being leveled at head coach Phillip Fulmer in the wake of last Saturday's 59-20 drubbing at Florida. Most of the comments take one of three forms:

Fulmer had a great run in the 1990s but the game has passed him by.

This staff is incapable of fixing the problems.

After a 1-2 start, the 2007 season is doomed to failure.

Naturally, the player reactions vary. Most shrug off the criticism, figuring it's simply a case of frustrated fans needing to vent. The bashing of Fulmer, his staff and his team seems to be having little impact – positive or negative – on the Volunteers as they prepare for Saturday night's visit from Arkansas State.

"Right now we're looking at the rest of the season as (if) we're going to win the rest of the games," junior guard Anthony Parker said. "We don't feel like the season's done. We're behind Phil Fulmer 100 percent. That's our coach, and we're going to play for our coach. We're going to go out here for these next nine games and try to win them all."

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge said he was unaware of the backlash to the beat-down in Gainesville until informed by a couple of media members on Tuesday afternoon. He wasn't terribly surprised, though, noting that criticism comes with the territory.

"We just want to play football," he said. "We don't worry about that. That's not our thing to worry about. Everybody has their own opinion. There's always going to be someone who thinks I'm terrible … some people that think Coach Fulmer is terrible or Coach Cut (David Cutcliffe) is terrible. Why did he call this play or why did he call that play?

"That's the way it's always going to be. We just go out to practice and watch film. I was here till 11 o'clock last night. There's nothing you can do but try to get ready to go in that next game."

Ainge says criticism of the team neither devastates nor motivates him.

"It doesn't fuel me," he said. "Obviously, you like it better when you hear positive things than negative things because … well, duh. A negative comment about my head coach isn't going to make me prepare any harder. It isn't going to make me want to do anything any differently.

"I'm doing things to get myself ready to play, whether they are talking about him being the President of the United States or firing him. What affects me is what Coach Cut and Coach Fulmer and my teammates say. If THEY are talking bad about me – if THEY are being negative about me – that's going to hurt me a lot more than somebody else."

Ainge described his teammates as "thick-skinned," but conceded that the team has "some guys that like to read a little too much." Still, he believes the only criticism that matters is that which comes from the coaching staff.

"Personally, when I go up and look at my grade sheet and it has Coach Cut's comments and Coach Fulmer's comments on it, that's what hits me – good or bad," he said. "If Coach Cut was disappointed in me for something, that's when I would feel disappointed. Those are the guys that matter to us."

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