Phil's next stop ... Clemson?

Phillip Fulmer's last game as Tennessee's head football coach had barely ended when speculation about his next coaching stop began.

The early leader is Clemson, and Fulmer fueled that speculation with his comments mere minutes after Saturday night's 28-10 defeat of Kentucky concluded his 2008 season with a 5-7 record and concluded his 16-year run at UT with a 152-52 mark.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden resigned under pressure earlier this season, leaving behind a job that is one of the most attractive in all of college football. The Tigers were ranked No. 9 in preseason and have very good facilities. The school is located in a state with a decent recruiting base (South Carolina). It has excellent support from administration and fans alike. Its football budget is substantial and it competes in a league that is good but not great (Atlantic Coast Conference). The fact the campus is located in the Southeast – where Fulmer has spent virtually his entire life – is another plus.

When asked about the Clemson vacancy during Saturday night's post-game news conference, Fulmer surprised the assembled media by expressing keen interest in the Tiger job.

"This is a very special place," he said of Tennessee, "and it would take a very special place for me to go to (another school). But, being unemployed right now, I'm interested in those kind of jobs because that's a special place."

That was a clear signal to Clemson officials that Fulmer is eager to discuss the coaching position with them ... if he hasn't already. Coincidentally, one candidate they already interviewed for the vacancy, Lane Kiffin, is the very man who will succeed Fulmer later this week. The outgoing coach was clearly displeased that a UT official leaked the news of his successor late last week.

"Somebody either really didn't understand (the fragile emotional state of) the kids or it's not important to them or whatever," Fulmer said. "I was afraid of that throwing another wrench into everything."

The departing coach said he tried to refocus the players' attention by reminding them that "we've had our time of mourning" and it was time to focus on beating Kentucky so that "we could sing in the locker room together one last time."

Although he reiterated that people he respects are suggesting he "take some time and not just jump at the first thing (that interests him)," Fulmer appears determined to be coaching somewhere in 2009.

"Certainly," he said, "if the right place that has the same kind of passion the Tennessee people have – and I felt like I could have the same kind of passion there that I've had here – that's something I would look at."

Asked if he's had any contact with Clemson, Fulmer hedged by saying: "I'm not at liberty to talk too much about any of that. Nor do I choose to at this particular point. They've got an interim coach, and I think he won today, so that (promoting him to full-time head man) may very well be what they choose to do."

Dabo Swinney, who was named interim coach at Clemson when Bowden stepped down on Oct. 13, won four of the six games he oversaw. He ended the season with a 31-14 defeat of Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday that gives the Tigers a 7-5 record and a three-game winning streak heading into bowl play. Clemson students made clear their choice for the 2009 coach by chanting "Da-bo, Da-bo, Da-bo" in the final minutes of Saturday's game. Swinney apparently would be a popular hire.

"If that's the case, then I think that's probably what the Good Lord is telling me to do," Fulmer said. "I do believe when one door closes another one opens. If that's not the one that's open, there'll be one somewhere that's open ... if I choose to do that."

For now, Fulmer says he wants to relax a bit following the conclusion of a taxing season and reflect on his final victory at Tennessee.

"I'm sure it's going to take a few days," he said, "and I guess, my wife to kick me out of the house – because I don't have anything to do right now (laughs) – to realize how big a deal it is."

After a brief pause, he smiled and added, "Who knows? We may do it again."

If Fulmer chooses to "do it again" in 2009, Clemson just might be the place.


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