Ending a process that began on Friday of last week, Witt's action was the culmination of one of the most tumultuous weeks in Crimson Tide history. "Coach Mike Price is a great coach and a good man," Witt said. "He is a man that has made a mistake that he deeply regrets. His mistake has severely hurt our university and will hurt our university for years to come."
Rumors concerning Price's alleged behavior at a golf outing in Pensacola, Florida in April virtually consumed the state media this week. Specific details of what happened on the trip are still not certain. But published accounts have Price visiting a stripper bar, spending most of the evening there drinking and tipping the dancers and then returning to his hotel room where he woke up the next morning with a young woman in the room with him. Price's long-time friend, Mac Bledsoe (the father of NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who played for Price at Washington State), was interviewed on a talk radio show Friday. According to Bledsoe, Price told him he didn't know how the woman wound up in his room, but that both of them were fully clothed--Price in the same clothes he wore the previous day.
To further complicate the situation, Price apparently left the woman in the room while he went to the golf tournament. While Price was gone, the woman (not yet identified) ordered "one of everything" from the room service menu, asking that it be boxed up so that she could take it home. Hotel management became suspicious and contacted Price, who informed them that he did not make the order. The woman then left the hotel (without the room service orders). Price later returned and paid the bill.
According to Witt, Price's behavior forced the termination. "To be selected for a leadership position at The University of Alabama is an honor and a responsibility," Witt said. "When you accept the honor, you accept the responsibility. That responsibility includes conducting your personal and professional life in a manner consistent with university policies. Based on my review of the situation, I concluded that what occurred in Florida was not consistent with university policy concerning the conduct of university officials."
Reportedly Price was fully forthcoming with Bama Witt and Athletics Director Mal Moore. But for the past week university officials have been investigating the story, seeking to confirm the facts. Technically The University Board of Trustees could overrule his decision, but it became clear early in the week that Witt would be given the authority to make the decision regarding Price's future.
Saturday morning Witt met with the Athletics Committee of the Board of Trustees, with several other trustees also present. Afterwards, Angus Cooper, chair of the committee, described what took place. "It was a serious discussion," Cooper said. "We met with Dr. Witt. He gave us his comments. We gave him our comments. It was not a debate. We listened to what he had to say, and he listened to what we had to say."
"The role of the Athletics Committee was to provide advice and counsel and they did," Witt said.
Several sources close to the board reported that Price very well may have been retained, had the matter been put to a vote. However, that was not how the process worked. Witt reported his findings to the members present, and they shared their thoughts with him. Then Witt made his decision.
John McMahon, the president pro tempore of the entire board, related the board's concern for the Price family. "There was total support for Coach Price (as a person)," McMahon said. "I think that everyone on the board--and there are obviously varying degrees of interest based on one's history and background--recognized that this was a very difficult and painful decision."
Witt said he made his decision based on the long-term best interest of The University. "The trustees of this university have charged me with the responsibility to make decisions that I believe will serve the interests of The University. I greatly appreciate the advice and counsel I have received from members of the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee today and in recent days."
Sources close to the Price family told BamaMag.com that Price had asked Witt for permission to address the trustees in person, affording them the opportunity to question him about what actually did and did not happen that weekend.
Accompanied by family members, Price did attend the meeting between Witt and the Athletics Committee. However, according to Cooper he was not allowed to speak to the assembled trustees. "Coach Price did not have a chance to address the meeting," Cooper said.
Interestingly, Athletics Director Mal Moore was not at the meeting either. He said afterwards that he was waiting in his office until he was called over. Sources close to the team told BamaMag.com that Coach Moore was either not invited or not allowed to attend the meeting.
Because Moore hired Price, some are questioning whether or not his job might also be on the line. However, in response to a direct question Witt squelched the idea. "Mal Moore's job is NOT in jeopardy," Witt said emphatically.
This past week Witt had been contacted by former players, current players and even parents of current players--the majority of which asked that Price be given a second chance. However, Witt apparently gave great weight to the fact that Price had been spoken to about his public behavior prior to the Florida golf trip.
"Coach Price had been warned several weeks before about his public conduct," Witt said. "Athletics Director Mal Moore spoke with Coach Price several weeks ago, concerning his public conduct. His conduct in Florida was not consistent with the warning he received."
Reports from Rose Administration also had Witt investigating allegations that Price had bought drinks for Alabama students in Tuscaloosa, raising questions about the possibility of underage drinking. Also, rumors prompted by the Pensacola trip had alleged the involvement of prostitutes, stolen credit cards and other possible illegalities.
Alabama was mostly close-mouthed about the details of Price's misconduct. However, Witt stated firmly that no evidence of illegal activity on Price's part had been uncovered. "To the best of my knowledge, no," Witt said.
Despite working as Tide coach since last December, Price had yet to sign a contract with Alabama. Price and Moore had agreed to a seven-year, multi-million dollar deal, but details had held up final agreement. Having purchased a multi-million dollar home in Tuscaloosa, it's possible (even likely) that his sudden termination could turn out to be a significant financial hardship to his family.
"There has been no discussion of severance," Witt said.