If the Vols made a good play, he clapped. If the Vols made a bad play, he clapped. Whether the Big Orange was tied, three touchdowns ahead or three touchdowns behind, he still clapped. And his expression – stoic – never seemed to change.
Last weekend was different, however. Throughout the UAB game Fulmer stalked the sidelines like an angry lion. He made emphatic hand gestures and dramatic facial expressions. He cheered, snarled, exhorted and growled. In short, he was far more animated than the Phillip Fulmer of old.
The reason? The team's lackluster play has the head man ready to break 2-by-4s with his bare hands.
“I'm not going to be happy until we play like we're capable of playing,” Fulmer said. “The first ball game we didn't do that consistently. We played 50 minutes of really, really fine defensive football but we didn't finish.”
The coach is even more frustrated with his offensive unit.
“We're sitting here leading the conference in total offense and we haven't played well yet consistently,” he grumbled. “If we don't have two penalties in the second quarter against UAB that stopped drives, we're looking at maybe an entirely different (score).”
The 2007 Vols were awful early but Fulmer was patient with them because they were young and coachable. He is not nearly so patient with the '08 Vols, who are not so young and not always coachable.
“Sometimes I wonder if we're listening well,” he said. “Till I know we're listening and being a responsive football team, I'm going to be right in the middle of it.”
Fulmer tries to push the right buttons to get his team listening and executing. This fall, however, the players seem to be pushing his buttons, making the usually low-key coach a lot more volatile than previously.
Asked about the dramatic change in his sideline demeanor, the head man replied: “Maybe it IS the personality of this team.”