Phillip Fulmer: Florida rivalry will test Vols' leadership, expectations

Fulmer's 2004 team was the most recent to beat the Florida Gators.

Former Tennessee Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer echoed Butch Jones Thursday, saying the 2016 team hasn't yet played its best football.

He remains hopeful for Saturday, though, and thinks his beloved Vols will take down the Florida Gators for the first time since he ran the team.

Fulmer's 2004 team was the most recent incarnation of the Tennessee Vols to beat Florida. But history was mean to Fulmer, too. He posted a 4-12 record against the rival team.

"We've won three games [this season] and we've learned a lot," Fulmer said Thursday in the 10News Studio. "We've probably played against better teams than Florida has in all three of those ball games. And that should pay dividends for us."

Fulmer said the game will especially test this team's leadership - because of Tennessee's looming 11-game losing streak.

"Kids hear about it everyday on campus, they probably hear about it everyday from their coaches," Fulmer said. "They've thought about it themselves all year long. In this case we've probably let a few get away from us that we probably should've won because we were probably the better team."

The former coach, who retired in 2008, said fighting against a decade's worth of momentum can challenge a team in all phases of the game. 

"Best thing you can do is go play your best football and the leadership on this team, players and coaches, will have to lead you out of these things that happen, when streaks come," Fulmer said.

Fulmer said fans ask him frequently about his pregame locker room speeches, especially the 2001 game in Gainesville. His No. 5 Vols beat the No. 2 Gators by a hair, 34-32. 

"The side pregame is important," Fulmer said. "You don't want to waste a lot of energy in warmups, you don't want to mentally drain [your players] in Thursday-on kind of talks and stuff. They've got to be ready to play the game. That shows a lot of maturity in a football team if you're able to do that."    

While an influential game for the SEC East, the Tennessee-Florida game is not a make-or-break affair, Fulmer said. His Peyton Manning-led '97 Vols lost to Florida and still won the SEC Championship.

"If you win it, the season's not over and if you lose it the season's not over," Fulmer said. "There's a lot of football to be played. You know, it's early in the year, it's a big ballgame, the consequences are huge from a national standpoint if you win or lose.

"But that's not the end of the world or the beginning of the world," Fulmer continued. "Either one. Although you have a leg up to win the division. I think out of 24 years, 18 years Tennessee or Florida has played in the SEC Championship game. So this game obviously has significant consequences." 


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