David Cutcliffe wants the Big Orange Nation to know exactly how he feels.
The Tennessee fans, the University of Tennessee, all the alumni and former players -- this is home to me and it always will be, he said in describing his feelings for UT after Sunday's brief practice inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
It was Cutcliffe's first session with the team since being named Duke's next head football coach Saturday afternoon. Yet despite the whirlwind courtship that began with a Tuesday phone call, a Wednesday interview on the Durham, N.C., campus and two days of negotiations and decision-making, Cutcliffe said he expects only minimal distractions leading up to the Vols Jan. 1 Outback Bowl date with Wisconsin.
It's a little awkward, but I didn't feel funny on this field,he said. I don't know but one way to coach and I expect the players to respond. I expect them to play really well in this ballgame. That?s not going to change.
This isn't Cutcliffe,s first departure from East Tennessee. He left the Vols at the end of the 1998 national championship season to become head coach at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe compiled a 44-29 record in six years with the Rebels and often expressed a desire to return to coaching's top rung.
Seventeen years here and then gone for seven, and then back for two -- that's an unusual circumstance. It feels funny leaving for the last time, thats how I feel.
I just thanked the players and the coaching staff for making me feel a part of this family again. These were absolutely two of my best years of coaching. I told them they really were the most fun two years I?ve had in my career. No offense to all the other players, all the other years, but these two teams have been really special, particularly this team.
The Vols stand 9-4 overall, having lost a 21-14 decision in the SEC Championship Game to current No. 2-ranked LSU. And things appear bright for next season as well, with nine returning starters back on the offensive side.
I told them it was really difficult to leave these returning players, Cutcliffe said. My wife knows how I feel about the quarterbacks, and these linemen know how I feel about them. It's certainly difficult to leave this staff.
But when I got over there and I did walk that campus -- you know how you know you're in the right place -- I knew I was in the right place. That's kind of when it all came together for me. (Saturday) I was right where I was supposed to be. I knew I was comfortable and I can't wait to go over there and be in charge.
Cutcliffe also received a vote of confidence from South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who coached at Duke from 1987-89 and went 20-13-1 with an ACC championship his final season.
?He had great memories, Cutcliffe said. He said they'll be hungry. He said If anybody can do it, you can. I told him I appreciated his confidence and that made me feel good.?
VOLS ENJOY SUNDAY BARBECUE TREAT
The professionals were inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on Sunday and, no, it had nothing to do with an upstart football league.
Knoxvillians George Ewart and Dr. G.P. Midis, members of ?The Dead End Society championship cooking team, brought their wares to campus for a post-practice feast.
They've wanted to do this with the team for a good period of time and we couldn't have found a better time to do it, head coach Phillip Fulmer said. They're going to have some championship barbecue.
We appreciate those guys.