Vols coach accused of conspiracy against Alabama

Updated: July 27, 2004, 6:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer will not attend this week's Southeastern Conference media days after learning that attorneys in a lawsuit against the NCAA plan to subpoena him at the event in Alabama.

Attorneys representing a former Alabama assistant coach have accused Fulmer of conspiring with the NCAA in bringing down the Crimson Tide football program by speaking to an NCAA investigator four years ago. Alabama was placed on five years probation in 2002 after the NCAA uncovered recruiting violations that included payments to players from boosters.

"I am not attending media days because of the legal circus that has been created by an isolated group of attorneys. They want to hijack media days for their own benefit, but I am not going to allow that to happen," Fulmer said in a statement Monday. "This day is for the players. They should be center stage instead of this small group of lawyers who intend on attacking the integrity of the NCAA's enforcement process."

University president John Petersen and athletic director Mike Hamilton defended their decision to protect Fulmer from an onslaught of media attention and the threat of being served a subpoena.

"I don't think this is tucking and running," Hamilton said at a Monday night news conference.

One of the attorneys notified SEC commissioner Mike Slive that Fulmer would be issued a subpoena at media days if the coach did not agree to give a deposition, the Tuscaloosa News reported Monday on its Web site.

Tennessee will be fined $10,000 by the SEC for Fulmer not attending media days, the largest levied by the conference against one of its institutions. Fulmer will be available to reporters Thursday via teleconference during the time he was supposed to appear in person. Players Michael Munoz and Kevin Burnett will attend as scheduled.

Petersen tried to persuade Slive not to fine Fulmer. Tennessee will appeal the fine to an executive committee, which could rescind or amend the amount. Petersen said the appeal is a matter of principle because Fullmer did not attend the media days under the advice of his and the university's attorneys.

"I think we will potentially avert something that would not be in the best interest of the NCAA, the conference or the coach of the University of Tennessee," Petersen said.

South Carolina coach Lou Holtz missed last year's media day due to bad weather -- partly why the SEC instituted its fine policy.

Tennessee officials voiced their concern last week about Fulmer's safety in Birmingham while meeting with reporters at the annual SEC event. Fulmer was scheduled to appear the same day Alabama coach Mike Shula and two players are on the agenda.

Media days is held in a hotel and many fans -- mostly of Alabama -- go there to watch the players and coaches.

In 2000, Fulmer was interviewed three times by an NCAA investigator looking into possible recruiting violations at Alabama. Other coaches from the SEC and the Big Ten conference also spoke to investigators, according to NCAA documents. Some, including Fulmer, also testified before a grand jury in Memphis that indicted Alabama booster Logan Young allegedly paid $150,000 to steer prospect Albert Means to Alabama in 1999.

Attorney Tommy Gallion and his colleagues, who are representing former Tide coach Ronnie Cottrell in a lawsuit against the NCAA, have alleged Fulmer provided information to the NCAA in exchange for the NCAA overlooking violations at Tennessee.

Fulmer has defended his actions in the past, but had not said much at length publicly about it until Monday's statement.

"When you get behind all the smoke and the big pile of lawsuits, the truth still stands: rules were broken, an investigation proved it, those who broke the rules admitted their guilt, and a university paid the price. There are a few people who cannot accept the truth, so they file lawsuits hoping the truth will go away," Fulmer said.

"As one of several coaches contacted by the NCAA regarding these serious violations by a small group of boosters, my response was honest, in line with our code of conduct, and the right thing to do."

Former Alabama recruit and Tennessee player Kenny Smith also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Fulmer for telling the NCAA investigator he heard there were rumors Smith's mother was involved with a Tide assistant.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.