Winning for Phil

Tennessee's administration honored football coach Phillip Fulmer last summer with a raise and contract extension. Tennessee's players plan to honor him these next two Saturdays in a much more personal way.

"These are Coach Fulmer's last two games, so this is probably going to be our tribute to him," sophomore safety Eric Berry said. "He's put so much time into Tennessee. It will do him very well for us to give 110 percent and show him we really care about him."

Redshirt freshman quarterback B. J. Coleman touched on the same theme but expounded on it a whole lot more.

"Coach Fulmer has been such a great part of Tennessee football. He IS Tennessee football," Coleman said. "He's a man who puts his life out there for the kids. He's a players' coach. He's given 35 years of his life (to Vol football). We're very thankful for that as kids. We're very thankful that we had an opportunity to invite him into our homes, have him sit in our living rooms to recruit us, meet our families.

"He is a great man. He is somebody we can look up to, that we can say is our leader, that we can put 100 percent trust in. I think the kids are excited, they're hungry about coming out and playing against Vanderbilt....

"I think it's an important thing for us to come out and show Coach Fulmer that we give extreme thanks to him by sending him out with two big victories over Vanderbilt and Kentucky."

With seven losses to date, Fulmer's final season on The Hill is assured of being his worst. Naturally, he is touched by the outpouring of support from his players. The fact they want to win these last two games for him means a lot.

"I'm flattered by that, and I appreciate that," the coach said. "I want to win those games for them and our staff."

Fulmer asked his captains to address the team last Sunday regarding their hopes for the two remaining games. He found their comments encouraging.

"To a man, they want the team to rally and play their best football of the year," the coach recalled. "We've certainly had our moments, particularly defensively, where we have played well. I want us to finish for the Tennessee fans, the Tennessee program, the Tennessee people, for the Tennessee players and coaches – now and in the future."

Tennessee has played just one game since Fulmer announced his resignation (effective at season's end) on Nov. 3. The listless Vols went through the motions on Nov. 8 and suffered a humiliating 13-7 loss to Wyoming. You have to wonder: Will they be any more focused this week?

"I certainly hope so," Fulmer said, adding that the Wyoming game "was really not any fun to watch."

Two long interception returns gave the Cowboys a quick 13-0 lead that Tennessee never overcame. Fulmer refuses to blame the loss on the rocky start, however, noting that he told the players "we should've been able to spot them 14 to 21 points at the beginning of the game and still been able to beat Wyoming. I really meant that."

The Vols clearly were down vs. Wyoming. Whether Fulmer can get them up for Vandy and Kentucky is a question even he can't answer.

"You can't sprinkle magic dust and say everything's going to be OK," he said. "You know there's some distractions around as far as who's going to be the next coach ... save yourself for pro football ... that stuff."

Basically, the head man is using the same motivational messages he relies on whenever one of his teams encounters adversity.

"You appeal to the pride of the program, what they stand for here at UT, what we've done in the past," Fulmer said. "Also (the need) to finish up the season well for themselves. I don't expect any different than that ... for everybody to give their best effort in preparing. If you prepare well, you have a lot better chance to play well."

If the Vols are as listless as they were vs. Wyoming, they are a lock to suffer loss No. 8 Saturday at Vanderbilt. Fulmer knows this.

"Football is such an emotional game," he said. "You have to have an emotional edge to play it. It doesn't matter who you play. If you don't play with that emotional edge and that burning desire to succeed it gets more difficult. I thought some of that (listlessness) showed up at the Wyoming game."

Perhaps these next two weekends will be different. Perhaps the Vols will find their emotional edge and send Fulmer out on a winning note.

There could be no greater tribute than that.


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