When Florida and Tennessee met during the 1990s in a game that for 10 years decided the SEC East winner, Steve Spurrier often had a jab ready for Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer.
While the media delighted in the oral sparring — “You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” Spurrier once said about the Vols’ appearances in the Orlando-based bowl — Spurrier insisted it was good-natured.
And so it was Monday when the South Carolina coach was asked about Fulmer’s announcement that this season, his 35th at his alma mater as a head coach, assistant or player, would be his last.
“I don’t know whether to feel sorry for coach or congratulate him for the biggest buyout in the history of college football. He got the best deal ever, I think,” Spurrier said, referring to the $6 million buyout Fulmer is expected to receive.
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Fulmer signed a contract extension during the offseason after the Vols won their final five games to reach the SEC championship game and claim a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl game. But Saturday’s loss to USC dropped Tennessee to 3-6 and guaranteed the Vols would finish with a non-winning record for the second time in four years.
“He’s probably 16, 17 years there (as the coach), probably long enough. It wasn’t working very well, so I think everybody understands when it starts going bad, they’ve gotta make changes,” Spurrier added. “But congratulate him on hitting that lottery ticket. That’s a big ticket he got.”
Fulmer’s exit mirrors that of his predecessor, Johnny Majors, whose firing was announced days after the Vols lost to USC in 1992. Tennessee had not lost to the Gamecocks in Columbia since that game until USC thumped the Vols 27-6 on Saturday.
Adding to USC’s reputation as a Tennessee coach-killer was the resignation of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders two days after the Vols’ 16-15 loss to the Gamecocks in Knoxville in 2005.
The 63-year-old Spurrier, a native of Johnson City, Tenn., who grew up rooting for the Vols, has been rumored as a possible candidate at Tennessee. Interestingly, Spurrier said there was a time not long ago the Tennessee job would have intrigued him, but not now.
“Maybe five years ago I would’ve (been interested). But it wasn’t open five years ago,” Spurrier said. “I’m at my last gig right here. And we’ve got a pretty good team if we can get a little offense going.”
Spurrier, who is 9-5 against Fulmer, said he never took offense to Fulmer’s retorts when the two would jab at each other.
“He didn’t say anything out of the ordinary,” Spurrier said. “He’s a good guy.”
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Spurrier vs. Fulmer
Steve Spurrier squared off against Phillip Fulmer 14 times during Spurrier's career at Florida and South Carolina. He went 9-5 in those games:
|Sept. 19, 1992||Knoxville||L 31-14|
|Sept. 18, 1993||Gainesville||W 41-34|
|Sept. 17, 1994||Knoxville||W 31-0|
|Sept. 16, 1995||Gainesville||W 62-37|
|Sept. 21, 1996||Knoxville||W 35-29|
|Sept. 20, 1997||Gainesville||W 33-20|
|Sept. 19, 1998||Knoxville||L* 20-17|
|Sept. 18, 1999||Gainesville||W 23-21|
|Sept. 16, 2000||Knoxville||W 27-23|
|Dec. 1, 2001||Gainesville||L 34-32|
|Oct. 29, 2005||Knoxville||W 16-15|
|Oct. 28, 2006||Columbia||L 31-24|
|Oct. 27, 2007||Knoxville||L* 27-24|
|Nov. 1, 2008||Columbia||W 27-6|