Now, Gatlin is being dragged through the mud as a cheater.
Gatlin did have a positive test in 2001, but it was determined that the Addarroll in his system was taken due to attention deficit disorder and he'd been on the medication since age 9. Gatlin initially was hit with a two-year international ban, but had it reduced to one year after the facts were learned, and he even got a near reprieve from the IAAF, track and field's governing body.
The committee on arbitration finally determined that ``Mr. Gatlin's inadvertent violation of the IAF (International Athletic Federation) rules was at most a technical or paperwork violation and that Mr. Gatlin neither cheated, nor did he intend to cheat. He did not intend to enhance his performance, nor given his medical condition, did his medication in fact help his performance.''
Given that, Webb doesn't think Gatlin should have a positive test on record. But he does, and if found guilty of his most recent charge, Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist and co-world record holder in the 100 meters, could be banned for life.
``This appears to be a bad situation.'' Webb said.
Webb was stunned and shocked about the most recent testosterone test because Gatlin was such a ``quality kid'' at Tennessee and ``absolutely'' was clean. ``He was a great guy. He did fantastic things for us. We watched him mature and grow.''
But Webb admits he was concerned when Gatlin hired Trevor Graham as his coach. In recent years, Graham has had six track athletes test positive for performance-enhancing drugs and had 14 implicated.
That's one reason not even Webb can give Gatlin a no-holds-barred endorsement. The fact Gatlin is associated with Graham is damning – guilt by association, if you will.
``I hope he didn't do it,'' Webb said. ``I hope he's innocent. I just want to reserve judgment until things run their course.
``But if he did do it, it's like someone in the family. You make a mistake, admit it, talk about it and come clean. If you didn't, let's clear the air.''
As you can see, Webb isn't completely sure of Gatlin's innocence. He isn't sure because of Graham. No one is sure because of Graham.
As Webb said: ``There's a lot of baggage having to do with his coach.''
Which begs the question: Why in the world did Gatlin go with Graham?
Webb said he doesn't know if Gatlin picked Graham or if Nike assigned Graham to Gatlin.
Here's another question: Why does Nike associate with Graham?
Webb would like to think the hundreds of non-positive tests Gatlin has taken would work in his favor. But having Graham as a coach won't help. In fact, it hurts.
``He's in a bad place,'' Webb said of Gatlin.
In track and field, you're guilty until proven innocent. And if you want the benefit of the doubt, the committee on arbitration might ask, why is Graham your coach?
``We need to hear from Justin,'' Webb said. ``He needs to come out and say exactly what the situation was.''
Webb said Gatlin didn't need performance-enhancing drugs. Gatlin won six NCAA sprint titles at Tennessee. He ran a 10.05 in the 100. He ran the 200 faster in college than in his four years as a pro.
``He didn't need to take drugs,'' Webb said. ``I hope he didn't.''
Webb will tell you emphatically that Gatlin didn't take drugs while at UT. Now, he will tell you he ``hopes'' Gatlin didn't take drugs.
Michael Johnson, an Olympic gold medalist in the 200 and 400, said coaches of positive-testing athletes should be held as accountable as the athletes. Webb agrees.
``They've got to figure something out,'' Webb said. ``A coach can't be with a guy 24 hours a day, but if you've got 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or more (that test positive) at some point in time, yes, they do need to be held accountable.
``There are people calling for Trevor Graham's head right now. I can't say that I want the guy fired or locked up or that he never coach again. But there are people out there yelling and screaming about it.
``I don't know him personally, but he has a reputation.''
A reputation that will hurt Gatlin in the eyes of the ITA.
FORMER VOLS DOING WELL IN TRACK
On a positive note, Webb said a handful of former Vols are having outstanding seasons. Leonard Scott, a former UT football player, has developed into one of the world's top five sprinters. He won a Grand Prix meet in London and recently finished second to co-world record holder Asafa Powell.
Aries Merritt has run a 13.12 in the 110-meter hurdles and, since turning pro, has recorded five times faster than his UT-school record clocking in the 110-meter hurdles.
Tom Pappas, out two years due to injuries, won the USA Championships and has the eighth best decathlon point total in the world. He's gunning for the 2008 Olympics.
Gary Kikaya, who recruited UT on the internet while in the Congo, has run the fifth-best 400 time in the world (44.66) and has placed in the top three of several meets.