Fulmer's quandary

As Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer searches for a new offensive coordinator, he has received quite a bit of unsolicited advice from media and fans about who to hire.

One camp says hire Kippy Brown, a former UT receivers coach who has spent 15 years in the NFL, several as an offensive coordinator.

Another camp says hire someone with new blood, fresh ideas to invigorate what they perceive to be a stale offense.

That stale offense of 2007 has averaged one fewer point per game than the 1998 national championship team and has gained more yards per game.

Tennessee's offense is not as stale as some people think, but it's not sexy, either.

The Vols rarely threw the ball downfield. They didn't run that many trick plays that worked. They didn't run the now-popular spread-option but a few snaps.

Of course, Tennessee didn't do those things in 1998 – except throw the ball deep.

Scoring points wasn't the main problem for the East Division champions. But, at times, the offense didn't get it done. In three of the team's four defeats, the offense didn't play well – Florida, Alabama and LSU.

In three of those four defeats, the defense was dreadful.

Still, the offense could have been more helpful against California by scoring when the game was 38-31 Bears in the fourth quarter. It could have been more helpful by scoring in the second half against Alabama. And it could have been more helpful against LSU by not throwing two fourth-quarter interceptions.

But to blame UT's offense for this season's shortcomings would be short sighted.

However, fans don't just want to win, they want to be entertained for their $50 tickets and $1000-plus donations. They want to see their team score 45 points like Florida did eight times. (Tennessee did it twice in regulation). They want to see their team rush for 541 yards like Arkansas did against South Carolina.

Remember, though, that Tennessee's two best games of the season – against Georgia and Arkansas – were won with simple game plans that featured a solid run game. The Vols averaged just 174.5 passing yards in those two games, 170.5 rushing.

But if you're not going to go undefeated, fans want to see a fun, exciting offense.

Cutcliffe was asked if he considers the entertainment factor when he calls plays.

``I don't really think about the entertainment value,'' Cutcliffe admitted. ``I probably should.…

``I do realize we're in the entertainment business. I like to have fun playing the game. We have fun at practice. We try to have fun on game day and in preparation and in Friday night meetings. I want that to be upbeat and fun.

``I'm not on the sideline so I don't get a chance to be down there (with the players). I sometimes miss that a little bit because I think my personality is such I can make it fun for those guys during a ballgame.

``But I call a game so much better from upstairs. I just can't bring myself down to go to the sideline. You see so much better up there. It's like two different worlds.''

So what in the world will Fulmer do with his offensive coordinator?

Fulmer would do well to hire Kippy Brown, the Sweetwater native who did a fantastic job in two stints as UT's receivers coach.

That's not going ``outside the family'' like some UT fans want. But when Fulmer hired Cutcliffe after the 2005 season, it worked extremely well. Without Cutcliffe, UT doesn't win 18 games the past two seasons and make the SEC Championship game. It doesn't go from averaging 18.6 points in 2005 to 33.4 this season.

Brown would not only be a comfortable fit for Fulmer, he would be the right fit for Tennessee. He also has picked up a few wrinkles from the NFL that would serve him well at Tennessee.

Former Tennessee offensive line coach Doug Marrone, an NFL assistant since he left UT's staff after the 2001 season, would be tough to lure from New Orleans.

Rob Spence is the offensive coordinator at Clemson. He has interviewed for the UT job. Clemson led the ACC in scoring this season.

I have one concern about Spence: Player evaluation. When he was an assistant at Maryland (1992-93) he told a young tight end who wanted to test the NFL waters not to bother because he would never sniff playing in the NFL. Frank Wycheck went on to become an All-Pro for the Tennessee Titans.

But a guy can be forgiven for one major mistake.

In Fulmer's case, he can't afford to make a mistake.

He hit a home run when he hired Cutcliffe. But that was a no-brainer, considering Cutcliffe lived in Knoxville his one year out of coaching after being fired at Ole Miss.

This hire is more challenging, more intriguing.

Go outside the family and hire someone with new ideas?

Keep it in the family with Kippy and rely on his vast NFL experience?

If Fulmer doesn't hit a home run with this hire, he must at least hit a triple. When the dust clears, he's got to be in scoring position.

His job depends on it.


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