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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Rocky Top might not be home sweet home for Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer much longer.

Preseason prognostications placed Fulmer on the hot seat, and the temperature rose a few degrees with a season-opening loss at California.

He received the dreaded vote of confidence two months ago from Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.

"You can worry about it and let it drive you nuts, or you can adjust to it and deal with it and go on," Fulmer said in regards to the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately coaching culture. "That's the way we tried to deal with it - not trying to drive ourselves crazy."

Looking at the big picture, Fulmer boasts great success since taking over in Knoxville in 1992.

He has gone 138-42, and his Volunteers have finished in the top 10 in six of his 15 seasons there. Tennessee claimed the 1998 national championship under his lead.

But he hasn't returned to a BCS game since the 1999 season and has not claimed a conference title since the year before.

In 2005, Tennessee went 5-6 - including a humiliating home loss to in-state whipping boy Vanderbilt - and missed out on a bowl altogether.

He is 0-2 against Meyer's Gators in a rivalry series that resumes Saturday in The Swamp.

But Fulmer remains confident in the ever-changing Southeastern Conference.

"It kind of goes in cycles," he said. "You're always chasing who the leader is. When I started this, it was Florida, then for a while it was us, then Georgia for a little while. Then LSU slipped in there, and now Florida's back up at the top and now everybody's chasing the Gators right now."

For Fulmer's sake, the Vols' next turn better come quickly.

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Since 2000, Web sites such as FireFulmer.net and FireCoachFulmer.com have been launched.

Meyer took the UF job from Ron Zook, the namesake of one of the most famous anti-coach Web sites, FireRonZook.com.

"The best thing is you set a target," Meyer said. "In 100 years of (UF) football, there's only been two (national championships). That's the goal. It takes a while to get there."

Meyer doesn't believe there's a downside to the raised expectations from winning a national title, which make an 8-4 or a 9-3 record unacceptable.

Naomi Wilkinson was a sophomore at Tennessee when the Vols' won the 1998 national title.

Wilkinson, the vice president of the Jacksonville Chapter of the Tennessee National Alumni Association, is as big a Fulmer backer as any alum.

But even she realizes what the majority of Vol' Nation expects.

"I'd say they're about ready for him to win another national championship," Wilkinson said. "Seven or eight years, it's time we had to get a whole new batch of Vols' in there, recruits, a new team. I'd say it's about time to have another winning team."

A loss Saturday would make the No. 22 Volunteers a losing team thus far, giving them a 1-2 record.

The betting line on Saturday's game opened with the Gators as 1-point favorites, according to Yahoo! Sports.

As of Wednesday, that margin rose to 7 1/2.

Everybody seems to be picking the Gators.

And if everybody is right come Saturday night, there's only one way to describe the outcome for Tennessee.

"It would stink," Wilkinson said. "It's a mind game when we play Florida. We either show up or we don't show up."

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