Bounce-back time in Tennessee

Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer has had limited experience dealing with season-opening losses, having suffered just two of them in his first 15 years on the job.

On each occasion, though, he rallied the team for a lopsided win in Game 2. Fulmer's 1994 Vols lost 25-23 at UCLA, then trounced No. 23 Georgia 41-23 at Athens in Game 2. His 2007 Vols lost 45-31 at California, then whipped Southern Miss 39-19 the following weekend.

With Fulmer coming off just the third season-opening loss of his tenure – a 27-24 overtime setback at UCLA on Sept. 1 – historical precedent suggests the Big Orange boss will have the Vols back on track in time for today's 12:30 kickoff against UAB.

Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell, who has served on Fulmer's staff since 1995, says rallying from a Game 1 disappointment requires the right mindset more than anything else.

"I think you've got to be mentally tough," he says. "You've got to know that you've got talent and that you're going to push yourself to get better. You're not going to accept staying the same or going backwards."

Stumbling out of the starting gate evokes different reactions from different players. Some seethe with rage. Some pout. Some point fingers. Some grumble. Some shrug and move on. Pushing the right buttons to get all of these personality types ready for the next game is no easy task. Are Tennessee's coaches equal to that task?

"There's no doubt about that," Caldwell says.

One factor that may weigh in Tennessee's favor is the fact that Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis are former UT players themselves. Coaching at their alma mater has a little added meaning for them.

"Coach Fulmer and Coach Chavis have been around here forever; those two guys are Tennessee football through and through," Caldwell notes. "We're going to do everything we can to keep it among the top programs in the country."

Fulmer and Chavis don't score touchdowns, kick field goals, throw blocks or make tackles, however. That's why, ultimately, Tennessee's chances of bouncing back today vs. UAB hinge on the resilience of the Vols' players ... not the Vols' coaches. Based on what he has seen in practice, Caldwell is confident the troops are ready for battle.

"Our kids come from all over the United States, and they didn't come here to lose," he says. "They came here because they know this is one of the best programs in the country. We expect to win and they expect to win, too. You'd go somewhere else if you expect to lose."


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