Vols have the right attitude

TAMPA – After Tennessee overcame injuries and academic casualties to score a 21-17 victory over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, defensive coordinator John Chavis praised the team's attitude.

Then, shockingly, took a swipe at the team's behavior during the 5-6 debacle of 2005.

``I haven't talked much abut this, but go back to the (5-6) ordeal, we as coaches have to set the example,'' Chavis said. ``That's the only time in my 19 years at Tennessee we had some tails wagging the dog a little bit.

``Coach (Phillip) Fulmer addressed that and got that handled. Last year winning nine games, we kind of bounced back from it. It had lot to do with attitude. I'm not sure this team was any better than last year's team, but the attitude improved. There were no tails wagging the dog. That, in my mind, has been the biggest difference.''

Tennessee went from five wins in 2005 to 19 wins the past two seasons and an East Division title.

Chavis is right about one thing – UT probably isn't any better talent wise than it was in 2005. But the Vols led LSU and Florida by 10 points in the second half in 2006 and came within an interception of upsetting LSU to win the SEC title this season.

Chavis said coaches talked to the players before they arrived in Tampa about taking the next step for the program.

``You start take taking it right now because you will win or lose football games in the offseason,'' Chavis said.

Chavis said he saw significant progress in a number of young players during bowl preparation.

``Most definitely,'' Chavis said. ``We put some young guys in pretty stressful situations. They've got to learn what it takes to play on this level. It's not easy.

``Some people will make the grade and some won't. That's just the bottom line. Not everybody is cut out to play college football on this level. When you start talking about playing championship football, you have to take it to another level.''

Wilson must get in better shape

Chavis said junior middle linebacker Ellix Wilson played well against Wisconsin, but he got tired during the course of the game.

``It was a little different for him,'' Chavis said of Wilson, who started because Rico McCoy was academically ineligible. ``He's not accustomed to playing that many snaps. Matter of fact, we talked about it in the locker room. He'll have to do things from a conditioning standpoint to get ready to play (next season).''

Suggestions for new coordinator

Fulmer said he has an interview scheduled after the bowl game with former Tennessee receivers coach Kippy Brown, now the receivers coach of the Detroit Lions. Brown is a candidate to replace Mike Martz as the Lions' offensive coordinator.

If Brown is hired at Tennessee, I have a few suggests – no offense to David Cutcliffe, for whom I have great respect.

1. Don't give up on the run too soon. Cutcliffe admitted he did that several times. Mostly notable, he did it against California, Alabama and South Carolina.

2. Don't line up in the shotgun in short-yardage situations, unless the quarterback is a running threat, like Gerald Jones. Without a running threat at quarterback, the play blows up if the primary receiver isn't open – and open quickly.

3. Throw the ball downfield. Ainge's broken finger and shoulder injury had an impact on Cutcliffe's play calling, but UT rarely tried any double routes – out and up, hitch and go – to get cornerbacks off press coverage.

Cutcliffe sought Spurrier advice

Cutcliffe said he talked to former Duke coach Steve Spurrier about the Duke job before accepting on Dec. 15.

Spurrier coached at Duke for three years, winning the school's only ACC title in 1989 before going to Florida.

``I asked him about the area and the people,'' Cutcliffe said. ``If I was going to take another head coaching job, it was going to be around people I wanted to be around.

``Steve was real accurate on how he described the people.''

Spurrier reportedly gave Cutcliffe a sound recommendation to Duke officials.

``I'd hope so,'' said Cutcliffe, whose older brother played with Spurrier at Florida in the mid-1960s. ``I have great respect for him as an offensive coach We've kind of taken the same (approach) – we've thrown the ball but both of us run it and have some balance when we're at our best. And we both like to coach quarterbacks.

``He's pretty darn good at it. I hope he thinks I'm pretty darn good at it.''

Cutcliffe said it was nice to hear Spurrier had nice things to say about him because ``he probably could have nixed the thing if he'd wanted to because I know the people at Duke have great respect for Steve.''

EXTRA POINTS: Defensive end Robert Ayers said he felt UT could pressure Wisconsin simply by outquicking the pass blockers. UT had three sacks and at least eight hurries. ``We kind of rattled him (Tyler Donovan) a little bit, but he's a competitor, so he kept competing,'' Ayres said. ... Fulmer said he expects UT assistant Kurt Roper to join Duke's staff as offensive coordinator and Matt Luke to be the offensive line coach, although Fulmer said he didn't want to ``steal the thunder.'' Cutcliffe is also expected to hire Mike McIntyre as defensive coordinator. … Chavis said he hopes he can coach linebacker Jerod Mayo another year. Mayo is considering turning pro. ``It's been fun watching him mature into a good football player – more than a good football player.'' Fulmer said Mayo is best inside-outside linebacker UT has had since Al Wilson. … Safety Jonathan Hefney was blitzing on Antonio Wardlow's game-saving interception. ``I was excited for him because I know how hard he's worked,'' Hefney said. … Cutcliffe said he shouldn't have kept Gerald Jones in on third-down during the shotgun package late in the game. He said he apologized to Ainge for not having him in the game on third down. … Karl said he was emotional in the dressing room, realizing this was his last game in a UT uniform. ``All the coaches were pretty sad about the seniors leaving. It was kind of like tears of joy. It's meant the world to me to play at Tennessee. As a little kid, I always dreamed of playing at Tennessee. There's nothing I could have asked for more than to have done this.''


Inside Tennessee Top Stories