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Vols still have to answer for ’05

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Vols still have to answer for ’05 failure

By Brett Hait, bhait@nashvillecitypaper.com

July 28, 2006


HOOVER, Ala. — Since November, Tennessee football players have felt like covering their heads in shame when entering public places.

In the aftermath of last season’s 5-6 meltdown, they are hounded with the same question: What’s wrong with Tennessee?

“As soon as people know you play Tennessee football, that’s the first question they ask,” senior defensive tackle Justin Harrell said. “I’ve been answering it every day since the last game of the season.”

Tennessee football was in shambles as the 2005 season ended. A 16-year streak of bowl-game appearances came to a halt, a player was dismissed for fighting with a teammate and another was suspended for throwing his helmet and spitting on a cameraman after a November home loss to Vanderbilt.

Embattled offensive coordinator Randy Sanders resigned under pressure and two other coaches were dismissed.

For Coach Philip Fulmer, who has given 32 years of his life to Tennessee as a coach or player, the sting lingers.

“Last year was a tremendous disappointment to everybody, starting with me,” he said. “I’ve got a lot invested into this — half my life — as a player and as a coach. I’m not passing through there. Maybe there’s somebody that wants to do it as much as me, but there’s nobody out there that wants to do it more than I do.”

Fulmer believes a change of fortune for UT will begin with changed attitudes.

“Our kids understand that being at Tennessee, a school like Tennessee, is a privilege and not a right,” he said.

Players have received the message.

“The University of Tennessee doesn’t really need you,” senior offensive tackle Arron Sears said. “You’re here to represent the university. I believe a lot of guys know that now.”

Tennessee, 1998 national champion, had won 10 games in each of the previous two seasons before the collapse of 2005 and remains stocked with quality talent. Thus, Fulmer describes the 2005 season as an “aberration” that can be quickly overcome.

Eleven starters must be replaced, but Fulmer is more concerned about restoring team chemistry, unity and toughness.

“I’ve always looked at myself by nature as an optimist, but I’m also, I think, certainly a realist,” he said. “I do realize that we have a number of challenges with this team that we need to do.

“Hopefully this team will have a personality of toughness and being physical. I believe that we’re on the right track to do that. I think we have established ourselves to a degree as a tougher football team than we were at any point last year. That part is encouraging.”

Tennessee opens its season Sept. 2 at home against highly regarded California.

“Last year was very frustrating, but a lot of guys used it as fuel for the fire, really, for the offseason to help you push forward,” Sears said. “Last year wasn’t very good, and you’ve got to have a chip on your shoulder with something to prove. The University of Tennessee has never been a losing program. We’ve got to come back and change it around this year.

The expectations are high, which is the way it needs to be. We’ll get back on track.” 

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