NOTEBOOK: Locksley among candidates to replace Tennessee’s Fulmer

By Wes Anderson

The head-coaching carousel kept on turning last week, and Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer was the latest on the chopping block. Fulmer, who has held the position for the last 17 years, will step down at the end of the season following his firing early this week.

He is the second colleague of Illinois head coach Ron Zook to lose his job this season, along with ex-Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. Zook served on the Volunteers’ coaching staff with Fulmer from 1984-86 and also coached against him during two stints at Florida.

“I grew up with Phillip, he’s a great man, great coach. I don’t know all the numbers, but he’s won an awful lot of games (at Tennessee),” Zook said. “You hate it, but it is what it is.”

The Tennessee connection doesn’t stop there, however. Mike Locksley, the Illini’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is considered a possible candidate to replace Fulmer at Tennessee and is also a possible replacement for Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, whose firing has been long rumored. Locksley has been a part of Zook’s staff at Illinois and Florida since 2003.

Zook said that Locksley’s departure for a head-coaching job of his own is only a matter of time.

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“I don’t think there’s any question, Locks is going to get a job. I think that’s something we all expect, and we all look forward to celebrating with him,” Zook said.

“Do I want to lose him? No, I don’t want to lose him. But it makes you feel good knowing you had a guy the caliber of Locks, and he deserves that opportunity.”

Detroit or Tempe?

With the Illini’s postseason destination still up in the air, it’s not surprising that some players have been scouring some of the bowl predictions on the Internet.

“To tell you the truth, it’s hard not to,” defensive lineman Will Davis said. “You see guys talking on the team about people who projected that bowl, or projected that.”

Mark Schlabach of currently has Illinois playing in the Champs Sports Bowl against Miami (Fla.), while Bruce Feldman picked the Illini to play in the Motor City Bowl against Ball State.

If the latter prediction proves correct, Illinois would return to Ford Field for the Motor City Bowl. Other sites have the Illini headed to more temperate climates like Tempe, Ariz., home of the Insight Bowl.

So where would Davis rather be?

“Of course, the Insight,” Davis said. “If we play like we’re supposed to, the Capital One (Bowl) isn’t too far away either. All we can do is win three games.”

The Illini ultimately have no control over their postseason destination, but winning out will ensure that Illinois gets one of the Big Ten’s top-tier bowl games.

“As an older guy, I feel those things work out themselves. You’ve got teams that lose, teams that win, it all works out on its own,” Davis said. “We don’t even have to worry about it.”

The return of ‘Slash’

Remember Kordell Stewart and the days of the multipurpose quarterback? Ron Zook does.

Zook was a coach for the Steelers from 1996-98 – the heyday of Stewart, whose capabilities at quarterback, running back and wideout earned him the nickname “Slash.” Zook also coached against him when he became the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999.

“I know the preparation that you had to do; there’s a lot of things that you can do with that guy,” Zook said.

Enter Eddie McGee. With his hopes of playing time this season stifled by Juice Williams’ development, McGee had been itching to get onto the field.

He even asked Zook about playing on the kickoff team before being developed as a wide receiver.

Players and coaches were mum in the last few weeks when McGee could be spotted lining up as a receiver during practice. Now, consider the cat out of the bag. Last week, McGee had two receptions and is expected to factor more prominently in the Illinois offense.

“He knows the offense really well, he knows where everybody’s supposed to be, the only thing was knowing where to line up pre-snap,” Williams said. “Now that he has that down, no telling what he can do.”

Wide receiver Arrelious Benn had a glowing scouting report of McGee.

“I would say he’s right behind me,” Benn said. “He has the intangibles to do it. He catches the ball with his hands, you don’t see that with a lot of receivers. For him to just come out there and have the focus and energy to do that, he’s going to be good.”