Touched by Fulmer's finale

Watching Tennessee's outgoing head coach carried from the field on his players' shoulders following Saturday's Vol-Kentucky football game was almost painfully poignant ... even for Phillip Fulmer's successor.

"It was difficult for me to watch him at the end of that game," said Lane Kiffin, introduced Monday as the Vols' new head man. "I'll be honest with you: I got teary-eyed. That was an emotional, emotional deal."

Tennessee's players clearly love Fulmer, who was a father figure to many of them. They reacted with shock and anger when he was forced to announce his resignation on Nov. 3, even though a growing rift within the fan base had The Vol Nation engaged in civil war. That's why one of Kiffin's first acts upon arriving in Knoxville over the weekend was to meet with the players and clarify his role in the proceedings.

"The first thing I started with was the great respect for the previous staff, the great respect for Coach Fulmer," Kiffin recalled. "And they're young, so I wanted to make sure they know that, obviously, I had nothing to do with that (Fulmer's ouster).

"I was never contacted prior to that (Nov. 3). There was never a thought of this job prior to that."

Kiffin went on to describe his predecessor as "a legend in this profession ... a guy so many people have looked up to.

"He's done such an unbelievable job here... I can't even imagine what he's gone through, giving 35 years of his life to this university. I'm extremely honored to follow him. But I'm not trying to be him; all I'm trying to do is carry on some of the things he's done."

Kiffin was tempted to seek out Fulmer over the weekend but thought better of it.

"I've not met with Coach Fulmer, and that's for a reason," the new coach said. "This was a very unique situation.

"As much as I wanted to reach out to Coach Fulmer within 24 hours after that game, it wasn't right to. I thought about having breakfast with him but it just wasn't right at this time.

"When the time is right and he's willing to do that, I'll be all over it."

Obviously, Fulmer's knowledge of Tennessee's personnel, recruiting base and competitive challenges could be invaluable to his successor. Kiffin hopes to tap into that resource at some point.

"My arms will always be open to Coach Fulmer," the new coach said. "He's a special part of this university."

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