Fulmer Steals Show At SEC Football Media Days

Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer didn't show up for SEC Media Days in person, but he let his presence be known.

Hoover, Ala.–-When South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz is in rare form he usually steals the show at SEC Football Media Days. That wasn't the case on Thursday as Holtz was upstaged by a phone call from Tennessee football Coach Phillip Fulmer.

Deciding against attending the annual event in Hoover because of a pending lawsuit against him by Montgomery lawyer Tommy Gallion, Fulmer instead had a conference call with the media able to ask questions. Before the questions began Fulmer gave the overflow room of more than 200 writers a quick update on where he stands on the lawsuit and why he wasn't in town. The following is Fulmer's introduction on Thursday and it paints a clear picture of an upset and angry man.

"I really regret the circumstances are such that I can't be there with my players kicking off the season as we have done for the last 12 years," Fulmer said. "I apologize for any distractions all this has caused. I think it is very important to understand that a lot of people believe the entire NCAA Enforcement process is at stake. If we have no enforcement process then all we have is chaos, much like a country without an army or a city without police."

"It is well documented all the University of Alabama has been through. It's not necessarily all their fault. We all fear uncontrolled boosters getting involved in our programs. There were good people trying to control it, but a few rogue boosters that took it upon themselves to get involved in the recruiting process caused this problem. That brought on an investigation that has caused two coaches to plead guilty to several criminal charges. Several boosters have been disassociated from the university, a federal grand jury indicting a man for racketeering and coaches have lost their jobs. Alabama has accepted those responsibilites and is trying to move on, but some people don't want to move on."

"To blame me or any coach, any of the numerous coaches, that told the NCAA about what they knew or heard about cheating is wrong. All of us have an obligation and a responsibility to our universities to run a clean program. If we hear a rumor, you report it. It's up to the NCAA to prove or disprove it."

"You have a small group of radical attorneys, who on their own have undertaken their own agenda to smear the NCAA and anyone else who stands in their way. These irresponsible people have alleged that there was a conspiracy between the Justice Department of the United States, the FBI, the NCAA, the University of Tennessee, and me. These kinds of statements are absurd. These are the same people that sued two sitting Alabama governors."

"The university presidents accepted the NCAA as our governing body some 100 years ago. In my 30 years of coaching the people I have met from the NCAA seem to be bright and honorable people. I do not agree with everything they do, but they are our governing body. Most of the rules we have come from abuse and are intended for the good of the whole body of membership.

"Many coaches knew or suspected that there was cheating going on and challenged the suspect coaches to get it stopped," Fulmer said of Alabama. "Many members of the media also knew and suspected that things were going on. It was even addressed at one of our SEC coaches meetings in Destin a few years ago with all 12 coaches present. It had been addressed long before the hammer finally fell.

"I strongly believe that this effort by an isolated group of irresponsible attorneys to somehow glorify and excuse illegal conduct at the expense of college football is hypocritical on their part.

"Why am I not in Birmingham? I am not an attorney, but I will do my best to explain it. I am a defendant with the NCAA along with the American Football Coaches Association, which in my opinion is pretty good company, in a frivolous lawsuit in Tuscaloosa. This could have been over weeks ago. Our motion to dismiss was continued several weeks ago until next Monday by the rogue lawyers and the timing of that is not coincidental. On the recommendation of my attorneys, those of the NCAA, the AFCA and our university general counsel, I am not going to appeal that lawsuit."

"I have heard it asked why I did not give a deposition and tell the truth? That's actually two different questions. First, through the entire affair I have told the truth and continue to tell the truth. Second, telling the truth is much different that agreeing to be a stage prop for some lawsuit which some rogue lawyers are doing strictly for show. They have proven that they're not interested in the truth. They only showboat and grandstand. They make charges, incredible exaggerations, and tell half-truths to try to make their case.

"The truth is not on their side. I simply do not intend to play their game. I will not be going into a deposition the week of the Florida, Georgia or Alabama game. I do not plan to extend this any longer than it has to be. I do not want to be going back and forth during the season at the whim of a lawyer. I have a duty and responsibility to my team and my university and all the fans and boosters that support it. I am going to fulfill my duties as the Tennessee football coach and let the lawyers do their job. I plan to fight at every step along the way and give nothing."

"A couple of you have called me a coward. I was really disappointed to see that. 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 coward is across the line. The same people that use the space to call me a coward has used that same space before to talk about cleaning up the Southeastern Conference of cheating.

"I asked for this teleconference and have no problems meeting with anyone, anywhere, to talk about whatever. Except for radical lawyers that are trying to generate attention for themselves at the expense of a great city, a great conference and two great universities.

"Did I go to the NCAA? For the umpteenth time no. They came to me. They knew a lot about what they were asking before they asked it. This investigation apparently had been going on a long time."

Holtz, who took the podium before Fulmer's phone call, was his usual witty self when discussing his team and the outlook this season. When notified that one member of the media voted the Gamecocks first in the East and first overall in the league Holtz said the voter needed to be kept away from sharp objects.

Tiger Ticket Extra:

Perhaps the oddest happening of the day came just moments after Fulmer's phone call. Standing outside the media room, several reporters were commenting on the "dog and pony show" they were witnessing with dozens of photographers crowded around a speaker phone taking photos. At that exact moment a dog (boxer to be exact) came walking across the media days area on the second floor of the Wynfrey Hotel. Later is was determined that the dog belonged to LSU Coach Nick Saban and had escaped from his room when his wife went shopping in the adjoining mall.

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