Fulmer, Vols Balance Outback Bowl Prep With Search To Replace Assistant Coaches

Fulmer said he plans to fill the offensive coordinator position first

Dec. 29, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Tennessee Vols have had their share of distractions this season. That hasn't changed as they get ready for the Outback Bowl.

Coach Phillip Fulmer says the players' experience working through distractions is helping them during their bowl preparations as speculation swirls about coaching staff changes.

"I'm sure it's somewhere back in the back (of their heads), but this team has had a lot of things go on during the course of the season," Fulmer said during Saturday's team practice. "They've been able to do a really good job of staying the course."

Earlier this month, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe announced he had accepted the head coaching position at Duke and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor accepted a co-offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State.

Both Cutcliffe and Taylor are remaining with Tennessee long enough to coach the 16th-ranked Vols (9-4) in their New Year's Day game against No. 18 Wisconsin (9-3).

Rumors and speculation have followed - who would replace the departing coaches and would other assistant coaches follow suit?

Fulmer said he plans to fill the offensive coordinator position first and would like to do so before the team's first 2008 meeting on Jan. 8. He said he hasn't offered the job to anyone, though one coach he interviewed, Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence, has already announced he'll remain at his current job.

"At this time I think it was in my best interest, the university's best interest and our players' best interest for me to withdraw my name," Spence said in a Chick-Fil-A Bowl news conference. "I was flattered to be approached by the University of Tennessee. I felt flattered to be in that mix."

Fulmer said he had a great interview with Spence, but that he still had plans to go through two or three other full interviews before making his choice.

"All we did was talk football and schemes and philosophies and people, and I don't get to do that a lot," he said. "I'm going to go through that process with two or three other people to make sure we get the right person."



Fulmer acknowledges that it's a challenge balancing bowl preparations with recruiting and filling staff vacancies. He's even arranged interviews to be held while he's in Tampa.

He said he's spoken frankly with the players about the process of finding new coaches and thinks that the way they're practicing shows that they're not thinking too much about it.

Earlier this season players had to deal with speculation surrounding Fulmer himself as fans called for him to be fired after Tennessee lost to California, Florida and Alabama by a combined 77 points.

The Vols responded by winning their last five regular-season games and earning a bid to play in the Southeastern Conference championship.

Defensive end Xavier Mitchell said nothing has changed about the Vols' attitude.

"There's a lot going on within the coaching staff, but we really don't worry about that," he said. "We're concentrating on this game, keeping our minds focused on that in order to get away from this other stuff."