Here is an interview with Tennessee Football Blogger Rocky Top Talk go check out their site for more Vols football and they should be posting a set of questions I answered shortly.
1. How will this team react to the news that Phillip Fulmer is no longer their coach? Will the team step to try to get wins, and any word on who is on the Vols short list?
This football team absolutely loves Fulmer. When the announcement was made, the players attended to hear Fulmer and then walked out when the athletic director (Mike Hamilton) was preparing to speak. One player even shouted out that “he ain’t got nothing to say to us”. Perhaps Fulmer’s greatest credit is that he built a family in the program. Current and former players revere him like a father. Needless to say, this team will do everything they can to win out, get a bowl game, and put Fulmer out with a winning record in his final season.
My fear is that the players will imagine Hamilton’s face inside the Wyoming helmets. If they do, there better be several ambulances on standby, because some of those guys can really lay out some hits. (In particular, watch for our ubersafety: Eric Berry. YouTube him and get frightened.) The team was going to play hard as it was, but now they’re going to do everything they can to demolish the Cowboys.
The short list: nobody truly knows who is on the list, but the rumormill has already thrown out about 20 candidates, either in the form of “[Insert potential candidate here] was spotted at [insert local ritzy place here] with [insert major booster here] today! He’s gotta be the next guy!” or “My solid and completely reliable super-duper secret handshake inside source tells me that [insert potential candidate here] will be the next coach! The deal’s already done!” Honestly, I haven’t a clue, but I would expect somebody who already has head coaching experience.
Here’s a short list, but remember that is has almost zero credibility (as does any short list right now): Mike Leach (Texas Tech), Will Muschamp (Texas D-coordinator), Brian Kelly (Cincinnati), Chris Petersen (Boise State), Joe Glenn (Wyoming), Lane Kiffin (ex-Raiders), Jon Gruden (Buccaneers), and Gary Patterson (TCU). Other names you’ll hear are David Cutcliffe (Duke), Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Butch Davis (North Carolina), but they have all publicly declined any consideration and are pretty unlikely. Why people suggest Spurrier is beyond me, but you hear it too often around here. I think it’s out of spite more than anything else.
And yes, I was completely kidding about Joe Glenn.
2. I know this game is as close to a gimme since Wyoming is playing terrible, but what would happen if the Vols lose and are not able to go to a bowl game?
Had Fulmer’s firing not been announced already, a loss to Wyoming would probably cause a riot sufficient to bring in the National Guard. However, a loss will simply validate the decision to fans and give them more reason to look to the future. Tennessee fans have this schadenfreude thing down to an art form, so it’s not anything unusual for them to wallow in their misery.
My biggest concern – and this has gone entirely unaddressed – is that this season has caused a significant reduction in revenue for the men’s athletic department. The Tennessee men’s program operates entirely off self-generated revenue. No state money is used, even from the University itself. (The students’ athletic fees go entirely to the women’s department.) In fact, the football program usually generates enough revenue to practically pay for the rest of the men’s sports programs. If the money comes up short, the other programs will be hurt first as they try to repair the football program in anticipation of future revenues. With the recent stadium upgrades, there isn’t a lot of room for financial deficit in the program, so sports like baseball and soccer may see some unpleasant changes.
The worst case would be that Fulmer would be asked to step aside immediately. I can’t see that happening with only 2 games left, but if the fanbase really gets testy, it wouldn’t be beyond Mike Hamilton to pull a maneuver like that for crowd control.
3. What does Tennessee look to accomplish offensively? Wyoming has a solid run defense on the year, and is well tested with the depth of running backs in the MWC.
Expect Tennessee to struggle early and eventually wear Wyoming down in the second half. The problem with Tennessee’s offense is that we hired a new offensive coordinator who is/was installing a West Coast-type offense, and that particular transition takes a college team 2 or 3 years at a minimum. The offense simply doesn’t have the system down yet, but Tennessee does have a lot of talent. That talent will make the difference.
You will see a predominately short passing game, focused primarily on the wide receivers. The running game is pretty straightforward, with Arian Foster most likely starting with a toss sweep but the remainder focused on runs between the tackles. (Yes, they’re that predictable.) The team has yet to run a reverse, and end around, a flea flicker, or any other “trick” play with the exception of a couple halfback passes. I fully expect that to continue; if the team actually has any tricks, they’ll save them for Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Tennessee’s run offense has been abysmal recently (1 net yard against Georgia), so Wyoming definitely has a chance to frustrate the local fans there. Arian Foster is the #1 back; he’s the senior and he might break the all-time UT rushing record, but he appears to be much slower this year and has a very bad tendency to cough up the football. Montario Hardesty is a great power back and almost never fumbles, but he’s a junior and he has a stress fracture. The #3 back is Lennon Creer – a sophomore who can be absolutely electric and is clearly the best all-around back that UT has. There is a freshman names Tauren Poole who could be better than the other three, but he’ll only see the field if the game is already out of reach. You see, Tennessee plays upperclassmen over underclassmen, no matter their talent. Sometimes we get lucky and players like Eric Berry see the field because of injuries. Sometimes we’re really lucky and those guys are so good that they keep the starting spot, even, but it’s rare. Back to the point: if the Wyoming offense can give the defense some rest, you’ll probably be writing about how the Cowboy front seven kept Tennessee in check all game long.
4. Who are the play makers offensively for Tennessee and what are the chances that we could see both quarterbacks in this game, since neither has shined this year.
I would not expect to see Crompton in at quarterback. Nick Stephens has done a decent job, especially when you consider that he had no first-team practice during the offseason or the first few weeks of the season. In his 5 starts, he has only thrown one interception, and he was temporarily benched only because he gave up on the play after the interception was thrown. Nick Stephens will start and he will play the whole game (barring injury). I do not expect any interceptions this game; if he can survive the Georgia and Alabama secondaries with so little prep, he should be fine against Wyoming. The thing to watch with Stephens is that he has a strong arm and a very quick release. It’s very difficult for a defender to anticipate his passes because the ball is thrown so quickly.
As far as playmakers, the most dynamic is Gerald Jones – a receiver who occasionally takes snaps in the “G-Gun” formation. (It’s basically Single Wing football.) He’s the best player once he has the ball; the problem is that he drops more passes than he should. After him, watch for Denarius Moore. That’s the deep threat receiver, and he’s usually good for one really long reception a game. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Brandon Warren on the field. Warren is an outstanding pass-catching tight end who transferred from Florida State. He won conference Freshman honors in the ACC, but his mom became ill and he decided to transfer to Tennessee out of hardship (he grew up just south of Knoxville.)
The running back to watch for is Lennon Creer. He won’t get most of the action (Arian Foster will), but he’s the best healthy running back and he is a difficult guy to tackle. Montario Hardesty’s stress fracture is a definite plus for Wyoming.
5. With Fulmer on his way out how do you see fan support for this game going and for the rest of the season.
Fan support should be pretty strong. Before the firing, a lot of people failed to see Fulmer as a person; he was a coach and nothing more. During the press conference, his love for the team (and the team’s love for him) really came through, and I’ve heard a lot of people express sympathy for him. There is a lot of anger about how the firing was handled, but I don’t think it’ll interrupt the rest of the season. The one good thing about the announcement is that the fans can focus on appreciating Fulmer rather than despising him. That can only help.
But I don’t expect a sellout for the Wyoming game. A lot of people don’t see the point in going to a game against a relatively obscure mid-major when the team is merely 3-6. (It’s a pride thing.) It’ll be better attended than it would have been without this announcement, but it won’t be a sellout.
Finally, a note for those Wyoming fans who might be at the game. Neyland stadium has had a lot of extensive renovations recently, and is really looking good. Take some time to walk around – especially in the lower concourses – and enjoy the trip. And if you happen to see Wyoming colors in the middle of the student section near the band, swing by and say hello. I’m an ’01 Wyoming grad and am always happy for a bit of nostalgia. I’ll probably be sporting a bit of both sets of colors just for the fun of it.