Friday, October 28, 2005

Back to his old tricks, on the eve of Halloween in UT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Leave it to Steve Spurrier to point out South Carolina has won more games this season than Phillip Fulmer's Tennessee Volunteers.

The former Florida coach, who beat Tennessee five straight years and made fun of the Vols' frequent trips to the Citrus Bowl, returns to Rocky Top on Saturday for the first time since 2000.
But now Spurrier is wearing garnet and black - and yes, still a visor - and will be trying to lead the Gamecocks (4-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) to their first win over No. 23 Tennessee since 1992.

Unlike during Spurrier's years with Florida, there is no SEC East title on the line, although Tennessee (3-3, 2-3) was considered the preseason favorite to win the league.

"What is stranger I guess is that before the season began I think they were picked pretty much by most people to win the Eastern division and maybe win the SEC. Here we are going into our eighth game and they're going into their seventh, and we actually have little bit of a better record than they do. Who would have thunk that?" Spurrier said this week.

This is a more subtle jab from a man who once said, "You can't spell Citrus without UT" when Tennessee was relegated to the Orlando bowl after coming in second to Florida in the SEC.

The more reserved Fulmer didn't sling one-liners back and over the years got more accustomed to Spurrier's lip.

"I didn't appreciate it then," Fulmer said. "He has a different way sometimes when he gets a microphone in front of him. That's just him."

Spurrier said maybe his jokes were taken the wrong way, explaining how he and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden poked fun at other's team during the summer.

"He'd tell his little corny jokes, we'd tell ours. Fans laugh, no big deal. But you tell one about Tennessee they think it's insulting or something," Spurrier said. "You'll never hear me complain about somebody telling a little corny joke about our team."

As hard as it may be for fans to imagine, Fulmer and Spurrier are cordial.

"We actually get along I think very well," Spurrier said. "I talk with Phil every time I see him."

There were some sparks between the coaches this summer when both programs were dealing with several player arrests.

After criminal charges were dropped against a player accused of hitting someone, Spurrier said: "If you want to read about some full-blown fights, read about the Tennessee players, not our guys."

Fulmer shot back: "He needs to take care of his own house and leave mine alone." And a few minutes later added that Spurrier's comments didn't bother him.

"Maybe it rained that day and he didn't get to play golf," Fulmer said.

Spurrier is 9-5 all-time against Tennessee with eight of those wins coming as Florida's coach.

But the first win he had over the Vols was as Duke's coach when the Blue Devils pulled off a 31-26 upset in 1988, a fact that should make Gamecocks fans hopeful they can break Fulmer's 12-0 record over South Carolina.

"Steve is a heck of a football coach. What he accomplished at Florida was unbelievable but ... winning the ACC at Duke, that's an unbelievable achievement," Fulmer said.

Spurrier also pointed out he was an assistant at Duke for another win in Knoxville in 1982.

"I was head coach in '88. That was a fun one, too. But we'd already beaten them once there, so we figured we had a chance again," he said.

Florida won in Spurrier's last visit to Neyland Stadium in 2000 on Jabar Gaffney's controversial touchdown reception at the end of the game.

Fulmer led Tennessee to a victory in 2001, Spurrier's final game at The Swamp. The win propelled the Vols to the SEC championship, which they lost and then ended up - where else? - in the Citrus Bowl.

After two woeful seasons with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier left. He was hired as successor to Lou Holtz last November.

And just like that South Carolina vs. Tennessee became intriguing.