Speak softly, carry a big stick
|He had the players sit in a circle and he stood in the middle of them, walking stick -- the synergy stick, he calls it -- in hand. "The next thing I know, the players are calling me Moses," Fulmer said. [Photo Design by Gabe Correa]|
By Sports Illustrated
Posted: Tuesday January 05, 1999 10:09 PM
(TEMPE, Ariz.) -- -- Phillip Fulmer collected his trophies on Tuesday, then spoke softly about using a big walking stick to motivate Tennessee to its first national championship in 47 years.
In late October, Fulmer brought the gift from a longtime friend to practice and jokingly told a player if he couldn't understand the importance of playing Alabama, he'd have to use the stick on him.
"The next thing I know, the kids are calling me Moses," Fulmer said.
And the victories never ended.
Fulmer seized the opportunity to get the full attention of his players, who were 5-0 at the time and moving up steadily in the rankings. With Peyton Manning gone and star tailback Jamal Lewis out for the season with a knee injury, Fulmer was looking for another tool to keep his players united.
"I grabbed a hold of that one," Fulmer said. "The next day, I had a meeting, and we talked about energy and synergy and focus."
He had the players sit in a circle and he stood in the middle of them, walking stick -- the synergy stick, he calls it -- in hand.
[synergy means: broadly : combined action or operation. a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements] (as resources or efforts)
"I gave it to the linemen, and they passed it around to all the positions," Fulmer said. "We did it all year long. It was another way of bringing them back into focus. The kids bought into it.
"Other than being called Moses, I thought it was a great idea."
The new Bowl Championship Series was supposed to be a great idea, too, but the Volunteers' title-clinching 23-16 victory over Florida State in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl was anything but a classic.
The Seminoles were playing for the first time in 44 days, while the Vols were off for a month after their 24-14 win over Mississippi State in the SEC title game on Dec. 5. The layoff was obvious: There were a total of seven turnovers, and 21 penalties for 165 yards in a game that resembled a spring game rather than one for the national title.
"Some of the play, obviously, was sloppy," Fulmer said. "We had played a championship game, at least, and they had been off two weeks before that."
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden agreed.
"I can't remember us playing in a bowl where we looked this futile," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said after his bowl record dropped to 16-5-1.
Florida State (11-2) finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll -- the 12th straight year the Seminoles finished in the top four. Ohio State (11-1) finished No. 2 behind the Volunteers (13-0), who completed their best season in 102 years of college football.
Now that Fulmer has reached the national championship level, he knows he'll be asked to do it again.
"I know the expectations at Tennessee are going to be high," he said. "They always are. With success comes expectations, and we're accustomed to that. We want to be in the mix."
And so does quarterback Tee Martin, who never tried to outdo Manning but ended up beating Florida and then leading the Vols to its second national title. Martin threw for 278 yards, with touchdown passes of 4 yards to Shawn Bryson and 79 yards to Peerless Price, the latter with 9:17 left that boosted the Vols' lead to 20-9.
"He has the strength a lot of us wish we had ourselves," Fulmer said. "He doesn't have to be somebody else. He doesn't want to be. He just wants to play within the system and be a guy that can make plays that you don't draw up. Those are his strengths."
Crystal ball: Without Peyton Manning, even Fulmer (above) couldn't have predicted the Vols would win their first title in 47 years AP|
Can he come back and win another title?
"He can get better, and he will," Fulmer said. "Whether the results will be the same, or better, it's hard to say. We won 13 games. It will be very difficult."
Even though the Vols were the unanimous choice as national champs, Fulmer still says the BCS has enough flaws that he still prefers a playoff.
"To have 11-1 football teams that get left out of the alliance, that really upset me," Fulmer said, referring to teams such as Kansas State this season, and North Carolina the previous season.
"That shouldn't be that way. The best teams should have a chance to play [for a title] because the expectations are always high."
He added that the current system, put together to create a No. 1 vs. No. 2 bowl game every season, is better than past plans, but said: "I'd still like to see a playoff. I still think that's the way to go, but I'll be the first to say I do not have the answer to how you do it."
He does have the answer to winning a national championship -- speak softly and carry a big stick.
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