Randy Sanders will be on the opposite sideline at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night for Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer's final game at UT. Sanders spent 13 seasons next to Fulmer as a Tennessee assistant coach before falling on the sword and resigning after the Vols got off to a 3-4 start in 2005. Sanders relocated to Kentucky, and this will be his second trip to Knoxville as UK's quarterbacks coach. Sanders spoke this week about the farewell to Fulmer.
Question: With all the hoopla surrounding Fulmer's last game and who his eventual replacement will be, you're coming in under the radar as opposed to your first game back two years ago, right?
A: "It was really just another game two years ago, but it was a little different because I spent a lot of time in that stadium. That part hasn't changed. It might not be quite as new or quite as fresh, but it's still just as real. It's a big game for us. A game we want to win and need to win. It means a lot to the players, coaches and program. Once the ball is kicked off, it's football, whether it's Neyland or Commonwealth."
Q: As a former UT player and longtime assistant, what are your feelings about what has gone on down there?
A: "It's strange, because for 17 years Coach Fulmer has been Tennessee football. It was strange before that when Phillip got the job because Johnny Majors was Tennessee football. It's a transition. It'll be strange. Phillip's still a good friend, and I hate it for him and his family, but programs go on. That's one thing you learn in coaching. You have changes like this, and the programs still go on."
Q: Fulmer won nearly 75 percent of his games, a national title and was in the SEC championship game last year — yet basically was forced out. Talk about the expectation level at Tennessee.
A: "What we were able to accomplish there in the '90s, that took the program to the next level. I remember when I was there in the '80s, everybody was excited when you qualified for a bowl game. We had so many good teams in the '90s that we raised our own level of expectations. And I don't think we just raised the level of expectations in our own fan base, we raised the level of expectations across the country. It's kind of tapered off a bit. The expectations are still the same, but the success hasn't been the same. Sometimes we can all be victims of our own success."
Q: What do you think made it harder for Tennessee to sustain that level of success?
"Through the '90s, Florida was really good, but Alabama was up and down a little bit, LSU was up and down a little bit, Auburn had been on probation, and Georgia wasn't quite the program they are now. Vanderbilt wasn't bowl-eligible, Kentucky wasn't bowl-eligible, and South Carolina was going through some coaching changes and struggling. Obviously, us beating those folks had something to do with the struggles, but I think the SEC wasn't quite what it is now. There weren't quite as many elite teams at that point as there are now."