Fulmer says he's not a coward

Updated: August 4, 2004, 2:11 PM ET
Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he wanted to be in Alabama talking about football at Southeastern Conference media days.

Instead, Fulmer stayed in Tennessee on Thursday and talked about lawsuits through speakerphone to reporters gathered in Hoover, Ala.

"I apologize for any distraction all this has caused," Fulmer said at the beginning of a 10-minute statement. "I think it's very important to understand that a lot of people believe the entire NCAA enforcement process is at stake. If we have no enforcement process, all we have is chaos -- much like a country without an army or a city without a policeman."

Fulmer announced this week that he was heeding the advice of lawyers and wouldn't attend in person because of his involvement in lawsuits stemming from recruiting violations uncovered at Alabama.

Attorneys representing two former Alabama assistant coaches suing the NCAA claim that Fulmer conspired with the agency to bring down the Crimson Tide football program.

Fulmer called the conspiracy allegation "absurd."

"To blame me or any coach -- any of the numerous coaches -- that told the NCAA about what they knew or what they heard about cheating is wrong," Fulmer said. "If we hear a rumor, you report it, and it's up to the NCAA to prove or disprove it. Now a small group of attorneys -- radical attorneys, who are on their own -- have undertaken their own agenda to smear the NCAA and anyone else who stands in their way."

Summaries of three interviews Fulmer had with an NCAA investigator in 2000 were released in January from a federal court in Memphis, where a former Alabama booster is awaiting criminal trial on charges he paid $150,000 to steer a high school prospect to Alabama.

While other SEC and Big Ten coaches spoke to the NCAA about their suspicions, the attorneys for former Tide coaches Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams have focused on Fulmer. Attorney Tommy Gallion had said he would try to get Fulmer served a subpoena while he was in Alabama to force him to give a deposition. After hearing Fulmer was not attending, Gallion promised he would not serve Fulmer.

Fulmer didn't believe that.

"I don't put much credit in anything they say," he said before the teleconference.

Fulmer's decision to not attend has been criticized in the media, and he responded.

"A couple of you have called me a coward. I was really disappointed to see that," he said. "You can talk about my coaching if we lose. You can talk about my play-calling in games. You can talk about my physique if you choose to step that low, but [calling me a] 'coward' is across the line."

Fulmer was in a room near his office with two attorneys, a football assistant and a university public relations official as delivered his statement and answered questions -- most about the legal situation and some about football.

"I didn't get anything that I thought was out of line. I feel like our points were made," Fulmer told The Associated Press after the teleconference.

Fulmer is also being sued by former Alabama recruit and Tennessee player Kenny Smith because he told the NCAA investigator he had heard rumors Smith's mother was involved with a Tide assistant coach. The NCAA and American Football Coaches Association have filed a lawsuit in Knoxville to prevent coaches from being sued over what they tell investigators.

Fulmer called the Smith lawsuit "frivolous."

"Our motion to dismiss was continued several weeks ago to next Monday by the rogue lawyers and the timing of that is not coincidental," he said. "On the recommendation of my attorneys and those of the NCAA and AFCA and our university general counsel, I am not going to fuel that lawsuit (by appearing in Alabama)."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press