What Should Phil Fulmer Do?

No one in the University of Tennessee athletics department is likely to ask me for my advice about Volunteers Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer deciding to skip this year's Southeastern Conference media days event in Birmingham. But I've given it some thought. And even though it would reflect well on Fulmer, I'd like to see him do the right thing.

The first thing Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer has to do is get over the public relations loss he suffered at the hands of Montgomery Attorney Tommy Gallion on Monday. To begin with, Gallion pulled either a bonehead stunt or a brilliant stunt when he informed Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive that Gallion planned to depose and/or subpoena Fulmer when the coach arrived for the annual media days event in Birmingham.

All head football coaches (along with a couple of players) from each SEC school go to Birmingham each summer to provide information on their teams–and, historically, on a variety of other related subjects. Some 700 media representatives (newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and internet sites) are gathered to listen to and question the coaches and players.

Gallion's threat gave Fulmer the perfect opportunity. Fulmer was now the victim, not the villain.

In a venom-laced (at Alabama!) statement, Fulmer said he would not attend. His athletics director backed him up, and so did his president (the latest in a long, long list of examples of why college presidents should hire competent athletics directors and then keep their noses out of that area).

Slive was not happy. It seems the SEC Presidents voted in "Phil Fulmer Rule No. 1" (paraphrasing here, but roughly any SEC coach who has information about another SEC school shall take that information through SEC channels, not work clandestinely in an attempt to destroy that school) and, we now learn, "Phil Fulmer Rule No. 2" (any coach who fails to appear at an organized SEC event will bring a $10,000 fine on his school).

Slive slapped a $10,000 fine on Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Gallion–the attorney for former Alabama assistants Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams, suing the NCAA and finding all sorts of interesting critters as he turns over rocks–made a switchback worthy of the finest broken-field runner. He sent a second letter to Slive saying that no one from his organization would do anything to hamper Fulmer from appearing in Birmingham.

So unless Fulmer wants to fall back on the earliest trial balloon floated by his handler, the UT athletics director, that there is concern for Fulmer's safety, what is he going to do?

Say that he's already made other plans?

Everyone knows the security issue is as phony as...well, fill in your own comparison.

Phil Fulmer may have already decided on his great opportunity. If he has, he will have secretly (he's good at secrets) informed Slive that he will show as scheduled Thursday morning, along with (among others) Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula.

Fulmer will come in all smiles–it was just a misunderstanding, guys– and take his place at the podium. The Tennessee faithful (if they are even aware of this story; some Tennessee media members say it's not of much interest in the Volunteer State) will be able to say, "Look, our coach does have courage!"

And Fulmer will be able to answer the questions of his involvement in Alabama's NCAA problems and his portrayal of the mother of a former Tennessee football player as a loose woman and any other non-football issue the same way he would if this controversy never had arisen.

"I'd really like to answer that question, but because of litigation I can't, and I'm sure you understand that," he will smile and say. With courage.

And while no one asked my adivce, I suspect someone in Knoxville came up with approximately the same idea. I think Phil Fulmer will be in Birmingham Thursday.

And for the sake of his reputation, I hope I'm wrong.


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