The mere mention of the term "West Coast" sent a ripple through the crowd attending Fulmer's pre-spring practice news conference. It also brought several follow-up questions and an amused grin to the head man's face.
"Unless you change to a wishbone or a spread option attack that's drastic, football is football," he said. "Some of the passing concepts are different because of the West Coast system, but there are only so many ways to run the ball or throw a pass."
Still, Fulmer made clear that the '08 offense will not be the same old same old. Clawson has been given the freedom to make changes … and he is enjoying that freedom.
"We'll have some different concepts than what we've used before," Fulmer said. "It'll be fun to come out every day, then watch the video and watch our offense progress. That's what I'm looking forward to."
Prior to hiring Clawson, Fulmer had just two offensive coordinators during his first 15 years as Tennessee's head coach. The first, David Cutcliffe, learned the offense from Fulmer. The second, Randy Sanders, learned the offense from Cutcliffe. When Sanders resigned two years ago, Cutcliffe returned for another stint.
Given this tendency to maintain the staus quo, many fans assumed Tennessee's offense would not change significantly, no matter who the new coordinator might be. Fulmer's comments earlier today tend to refute that idea. Clawson's comments did, too.
"There's some West Coast concept that we installed," the new coordinator said. "This offense has its roots in the West Coast System which goes back to BYU and Sid Gillman, 30 to 40 years back of teaching the passing game. Some of our base concepts come from that family."
Like Fulmer, Clawson seemed amused that the term "West Coast" stirred so much intrigue among the assembled media.
"Whether it's West Coast or Gulf Coast or Smoky Mountain – call it what you want – but it's how we're going to teach the passing game," he said, "and it's how the quarterbacks are going to be trained."
Clawson conceded that "a lot of the run schemes we're in we'll continue to run," but noted that much of the passing attack will be new.
"I just think some of the passing concepts are different," he said. "The way we teach the passing game – the protections and the progressions by the quarterback – are different than they've been."
Clawson said Tennessee may incorporate some principles of the spread offense, too.
"We're going to have a base offense," he said. "Our ability to get to more spread sets is going to come from competition. If we have three receivers that are better than the tight end or fullback, then we'll line up in three-receiver sets. If you line up in three-receiver sets, then you have to incorporate some spread concepts or it becomes very hard to run the football."
For the time being, however, Tennessee's focus is incorporating a new attack grounded in West Coast principles.
"With a new quarterback, new coordinator, new cadences, new line calls – just a new system – there will be some growing pains as we go along," Fulmer noted. "I know that on the front end but they'll have to be gotten over very quickly."
Like Tennessee's players, the head man and veteran offensive line coach Greg Adkins are having to learn the terminology Clawson used as head coach of the Richmond Spiders. That's because Clawson will be calling the plays.
"It's got to come out of his mouth in five or six or eight seconds," Fulmer said. "Greg and I have worked like heck to learn (the terminology) and keep up. It's fun. It's exciting. It's different. I look forward to seeing it."
Fulmer sounded like a kid with a new toy. He did not sound like a coach determined to run the same offense in 2008 that he ran in 1998 and 1988. Apparently, the head man is happily embracing change.
"If I wanted to stay exactly how we had been – just teach somebody our system and have them run it – there's two or three ways I could've gone," he said. "Several of the people I interviewed (for the coordinator job) were completely different styles than what we have been and a couple were very similar to what we have been.
"We made the conscious decision that we like what they (Richmond Spiders) do. We've studied tapes on them, and we're ready to go in another direction."
Although Tennessee is changing its offensive schemes to fit Clawson's system, Fulmer made clear that the Vols will not be changing their offensive principles.
"We'll be sound fundamentally," the head man said. "We'll take care of the football. We'll understand field position. Those concepts don't change. We'll work like heck not to put the defense in bad field positions and we'll stay within the framework of that. The rest of it is HIS offense."
Naturally, Tennessee will retain some elements of the offensive package it has run for three decades. The 2008 attack won't be a complete departure from 2007.
"We'll be marrying the systems," Fulmer said, laughing as he added: "I'm not saying if it goes bad it'll be me and if it goes great it'll be him. How's that?
"It'll go great."