Think bowl, not toll

If you can't stand the heat ... stay out of the coachin'.

Being a coach is a taxing occupation, particularly in the high-stress world of big-time college football. No one knows this better than Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who had to sit out the 2005 season recuperating from bypass surgery.

The Vol aide's heart must be pretty healthy days because it has survived one of the most erratic seasons in program history. There have been incredible peaks – blowouts of Georgia (35-14) and Arkansas (34-13) – and there have been incredible valleys – lopsided losses to Cal (45-31), Florida (59-20) and Alabama (41-17).

Asked earlier this week if this type of up-and-down season takes a toll on coaches, Cutcliffe shrugged.

"I don't know how up and down it's been," he said. "We had some lows but look around. This stuff (uneven play) is here to stay. Everybody calls this a bizarre season but the other ones haven't been that far from it. This is where we are right now. This is the profession we're in."

Cutcliffe's first tour of duty as Tennessee's offensive coordinator was more successful than stressful. He helped head coach Phillip Fulmer win 45 of 50 games between 1995 and 1998. Cutcliffe then accepted the reins at Ole Miss. He went 46-27 his first five years there but was fired after going 4-7 in 2004.

"The six years we were at Ole Miss we were fighting and scratching for everything we could get," he recalled. "We were able to win more than we lost. Fortunately, here we're able to win a whole lot more than we've lost."

Cutcliffe was supposed to serve as quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2005 but heart problems forced him to sit out the season. When Randy Sanders resigned under duress as UT's offensive coordinator following the '05 season, "Coach Cut" returned to his old job.

Cutcliffe's second tour of duty on The Hill hasn't been quite as successful as the first. After losing just five of their last 50 games on his previous stint, the Vols have lost seven of 24 this go-around. Losing is more stressful than winning, obviously, but Cutcliffe has no regrets.

"I don't have any reason to complain," he said. "We're going to keep winning football games (but) I will say this: I think they've gotten harder and harder to win as time has gone by in my career."

Because games are harder to win, coaches are working harder to keep their administrations and fan bases happy. Those who fail to do so will not make it to Year 4, as happened with Ty Willingham at Notre Dame and Ron Zook at Florida.

The pressure to win – and win NOW – has never been greater. Since the parity in college football has never been greater, the margin for error has decreased as the stress on coaches has increased.

Asked if this takes a toll, Cutcliffe again shrugged.

"I don't know if it takes a toll on you. I've had open-heart surgery and all kinds of (health) issues," he said. "You can call that a toll if you want. I just think that's part of it. I've lived with stress and pressure and so has he (Fulmer). This is my 32nd year doing this. It's a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and you learn how to handle it."

The pressure on Cutcliffe is reduced somewhat because he is working with one of his closest friends. He and Fulmer struck up a friendship when Cutcliffe joined the Vol staff in 1982 that has endured for a quarter-century.

"I think the best thing about Phillip Fulmer is that he's a great man," Cutcliffe said. "I know his priorities are his faith and his family. We keep that in perspective, too. Where some people aren't able to do that, it seems, we've got a deep-seeded respect for what life is."

When it comes to coaching college football, people with thin skin and high-strung personalities need not apply. The level of pay is high but so is the level of stress. In short: You'd better love the game if you're going to coach it.

"I enjoy the heck out of this," Cutcliffe said. "I can't live without it. I love to compete."

When people compete, of course, someone has to lose. There is no doubt that losing takes a toll.

"I just don't think you let it take its toll on you, personally," Cutcliffe said. "Professionally, it's hard sometimes. It's not just the winning and losing that gets hard. There's a lot of other things that get hard. But it's part of the process.

"It's a great profession. My son says he's going into it. If he does, good for him. He'll have to fight his battles, just like I've fought mine."

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