Should the players ignore the fact they're being booed by their own fans?
"They're going to get it, whether they ignore it or not," head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. "Just because somebody boos in the stands doesn't mean you don't have the support.... That just means they're passionate. They want to win."
Fulmer says he has gotten dozens of supportive calls from friends and fans in the wake of last Saturday's 30-6 loss to Florida that dropped Tennessee's record to 1-2. Still, he understands that some fans are displeased with him, his staff and his team. The booing is a dramatic expression of that displeasure.
"That goes with the territory when your people are passionate about what they want to see on the field," the head man said. "I wouldn't have it any other way, from that standpoint.
"Do I like to be booed? No. Do I want to be booed again? No. But if I stay in this profession, you don't think I'm going to have an opportunity to get booed? That just goes with the territory."
The BCAA (Booed Coaches Association of America) is not an exclusive club, of course. Every coach who ever paced a sideline – even the highly successful ones – has been ripped by his own fans on occasion.
"All I know is we've played for the (SEC) championship more times than anybody in this league except Florida.... We know what we're doing. We'll get back to where we need to be."
It will take more than rhetoric from the coaching staff to get the Vols back where they need to be, of course. The coaches must set an example that Tennessee's players are willing to follow.
"Yeah. They're kids and they're going to look at us," Fulmer said. "They're going to look at me. Hopefully, they'll listen to the voices of experience and not somebody that's got a job to do, as you (media) do, or has got a personal interest because they had a five-dollar bet on the game."
Being booed by your own fans is no fun. Adversity never is. How well the Vols handle this adversity is anyone's guess. To date, they have not handled adversity particularly well.
Following a critical Game 1 fumble at the UCLA 5-yard line, Tennessee wilted. The Vols gained just 2 net yards on their next 14 snaps, during which time a seven-point lead become a three-point deficit.
Following a punt-return touchdown that gave Florida a 17-0 first-quarter lead in Game 3, Tennessee wilted again, eventually falling behind 27-0.
Those adversities pale in comparison to the ones the Vols will encounter Saturday at Auburn. For instance:
- The prospect of facing the No. 15 team in America on its home field.
- The prospect of facing the No. 10 defense in college football.
- The prospect of facing an angry bunch of Tigers who are coming off a home-field loss to LSU one week earlier.
- The prospect of seeing Tennessee's record drop to 1-3 and fan discontent rise.
- The prospect of being booed far harder and louder than what the Vols experienced in their previous road game at UCLA.
Are Tennessee's players ready to handle so much adversity? Naturally, they think they are.
"I've never been to Auburn but I've heard that it gets pretty loud and gets pretty hectic down there," sophomore receiver Gerald Jones said. "As long as we stay poised, stay together and don't get frustrated when adversity hits, we'll be all right."