'An incredible cheap shot'

Widely ripped for his team's poor start in 2007, Tennessee's head football coach ripped back following the Vols' 35-14 upset of No. 12 Georgia Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Phillip Fulmer has taken a lot of hits since his team suffered a humiliating 59-20 Game 3 loss at Florida. Knowing criticism and second-guessing go with the job, he chose not to respond ... until Saturday night, that is.

The veteral Vol coach broke his silence in response to a piece by Knoxville News-Sentinel sports columnist John Pennington, who also hosts a sports-related talk show on Knoxville's WATE television station.

The column in question was featured in The News-Sentinel's GoVols.com website on Friday and in the newspaper's sports section on Saturday. The piece anonymously quotes several former Vols on the current state of UT football. According to Pennington, they see troubling signs in some crucial areas, including player development and conditioning.

Even in the after-glow of a huge victory, Fulmer's face grew taut with anger when he shifted his focus to the Pennington article mere minutes into Saturday night's post-game remarks.

"I would want to address one thing just quickly," he said. "Ordinarily, I'm a pretty big boy and I can take and ignore most anything that might come up. But I thought it was an incredible cheap shot to say something about former players ... unnamed players talking about our program, particularly on a day when we had a big game like this and a lot of prospects coming in.

"It just hit a danged nerve, and I don't appreciate it. I don't usually respond that way but I think in this case our football team and our program deserves a response to something like that.

"I have relationships with our players that have been through this program, and if they've got something they want to say they can certainly say it to me at any time. I don't believe they would go through some person that's never walked on our practice field, never been to a meeting – that I know of – or a press conference or anything else since I've been here.

"That's off my chest, and we'll go from there."


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