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FOOTBALL: Sanders steps down at UT

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Randy Sanders resigned Monday as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator but will finish out the year as quarterbacks coach, leaving play-calling duties to be handled by the remainder of the offensive coaches. The restructured staff will lead the Volunteers against Notre Dame Saturday.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I have chosen to relinquish my position as offensive coordinator,” Sanders said in a statement about the role he has held the past six-and-a-half seasons.

“I’ve spent the past 22 years of my life at Tennessee. This place means a great deal to me and always will.”

Ranked No. 3 in the preseason Associated Press poll, the Volunteers have failed to live up to expectations in 2005. Following a heartbreaking 16-15 loss to South Carolina last Saturday – the Volunteers had downed the rival Gamecocks in each of their last 12 meetings – Tennessee dropped out of the AP top 25 poll this week for the first time in three years.

“Everyone has worked very hard this year,” Sanders said. “No one anticipated us being where we are. Clearly something needs to be done.”

Playing solid and at times spectacular defense, Tennessee has struggled to match that success on the offensive side of the ball.

Heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Irish, the Volunteers haven’t scored more than 15 points since they posted 27 against a mediocre Ole Miss squad Oct. 1. On two occasions this season, Tennessee failed to score double digits, recording a lone touchdown in a 16-7 loss to SEC rival Florida Sept. 17 and booting only a field goal in a 6-3 loss to Alabama Oct. 22.

A quarterback controversy – Rick Clausen has played in all seven games this season, tossing three touchdowns and four interceptions, while Erik Ainge has taken the field in five contests, throwing a pair of touchdowns and four interceptions of his own – coupled with the season-ending injury of senior starting running back Gerald Riggs, Jr. have undoubtedly contributed to the poor offensive performance.

But Volunteers head coach Phillip Fulmer isn’t about to point his finger at a single culprit for the unit’s ineffective play.

“This has been a very difficult season for everyone, especially Randy,” Fulmer said in a statement. “By no means is the result of the season any one person’s fault. Randy has dedicated his adult life to this program and is not only a true Volunteer and an outstanding coach, but a great friend.”

Fulmer has an offensive background, serving as offensive coordinator for the Volunteers from 1989-91 before being named head coach in 1992. Earlier in his career, he was the offensive line coach at Wichita State in 1974 and from 1977-78.

In the end, Sanders hopes the relatively abrupt announcement will provide a clean state and rejuvenate a stale offense.

“This is a decision I felt I needed to make,” Sanders said. “Sometimes as a coach changing the lineup on the field can give you a fresh outlook. I’ve never been afraid to make player changes to try to stir things up, and I’m not above changing my situation to stir things up. I hope this will give our team the shot in the arm it needs to get back on track for the rest of the season.”


Fulmer said he has had contact recently with David Cutcliffe, Sanders’ predecessor as Tennessee offensive coordinator.

“David and I have talked a time or two during the course of the year, and he’s been out to practice a time or two,” Fulmer said. “He’s obviously a very knowledgeable coach and a very good friend and has good insight and understands us and how we try to do things. We won a lot of football games when he was here, but as far as any schemes, we really haven’t talked that much at all.”

Cutcliffe resigned his position as Notre Dame quarterbacks coach on June 1 after having heart bypass surgery.

He became head coach at Mississippi after leaving Tennessee in 1998 and was announced as Irish coach Charlie Weis’ choice for quarterbacks coach on Jan. 4 after being fired by the Rebels after the 2004 season.

Cutcliffe never coached in a game for the Irish and current quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas was hired to replace him on June 3.

While Fulmer hasn’t had much of an opportunity to develop a professional relationship with Weis, he certainly respects the first-year head coach.

“I have watched him from afar, but I have not gotten to know him at all,” Fulmer said. “I watched him with the Patriots, and obviously, you have to be impressed with what he’s gotten done there at Notre Dame. He’s done extremely well at the places that he has been.”