Holy terrors

Tennessee's head football coach isn't known as a risk-taker but he took a big gamble earlier this season that seems to be paying handsome dividends.

With his public-approval rating at an all-time low following a 41-17 Game 7 loss to Alabama, Phillip Fulmer made a move likely to offend some of the fans who were still in his corner: He would begin holding practice on Sundays.

As a man of faith with roots here in the Bible Belt, Fulmer figured holding workouts on the Sabbath might add a few thousand more names to his legion of detractors. It didn't, though. Apparently, fans were happy to see him try something – ANYTHING – that might snap the Vols out of their early-season doldrums.

"I was ready to be criticized like heck if we had to do it," Fulmer recalled, "but that's all right. I felt like that's what we needed."

Fulmer discussed Sunday workouts with some colleagues in the coaching fraternity. Upon getting positive feedback from them, he sought input from several of Tennessee's team leaders. After losing 45-31 to Cal, 59-20 to Florida and 41-17 to Bama in the season's first seven weeks, the veteran Vols were willing to try anything. Fulmer implemented the plan the day after the Tuscaloosa debacle, and the Vols are 4-0 since then.

"We did it," Fulmer said, "and it has worked out really well for us."

The Vol boss described Sunday workouts as "a reasonably new thing" in college football, adding: "We looked at it the last two or three years. We'll probably stay with it (in future years) or do what we did this time, changing at mid-stream."

By having a light practice on Sunday and getting a day off on Monday – instead of vice versa – Tennessee's players have more time to recover from the nicks and bruises they suffered the previous Saturday.

"I think it's given our players a chance to be fresher for our Tuesday practice, to have some kind of normalcy in their student life, to have a day when they can take care of their academics – see a professor, get a paper done in the afternoon at the library, whatever it takes," Fulmer said. "I think that's been a real positive."

Practicing on Sunday also has helped Tennessee refocus on the game ahead, rather than reliving the game just finished.

"Getting the game out of the way on Sunday has been a real, real positive for us," Fulmer said. "It cramps the coaches a little bit because we have a very busy Sunday anyway. Adding an hour practice and having to be prepared for that practice is demanding. But we've been efficient with our time."

While the players now have more time on Mondays to devote to their schoolwork, the coaches have more time on Mondays to devote to formulating a game plan for the upcoming opponent.

"The best thing that's come of it, from our standpoint, is that we get a day - uninterrupted basically - when we can do all of our planning," Fulmer said. "Then we hit Tuesday's practice really ready."

Five weeks ago the head man thought Sunday workouts would provide more ammunition for his critics. He was wrong on that score. He also thought Sunday workouts would provide more benefits for his team. He was right on that score.

"I thought it would be good," he said. "It's been better than I expected."

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