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Mike Fish Straight Shooting

Hero or tattletale?

Coaches ratting out other coaches is hardly a new thing

Posted: Friday January 23, 2004 4:17PM; Updated: Friday January 23, 2004 4:17PM
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Depending on where you stand, Phillip Fulmer is either an honest, stand-up guy or a blubbering tattletale bent on keeping the heat off his own Tennessee football program.

Fulmer ratted out storied rival Alabama, no doubt. And that's understandably got Tide faithful up in arms; they've branded the Tennessee coach a low-life fink and an assortment of other colorful descriptions not fit for print.

Folks in Tuscaloosa believe college coaches shouldn't run off squealing like a pig to the NCAA. Maybe not, but they do. I can say this from first-hand experience, having had coaches put me onto a story while they had the NCAA on the other line. You just never hear an informant identified because the NCAA keeps everything private. It only came out here after an NCAA investigator's notes became part of a federal case.

So what is coaching etiquette, anyway? If there's an issue, you're supposed to first call the other head coach -- and no one knows whether that happened here. But after that, says Grant Teaff, head of the American Football Coaches Association, it's not uncommon for coaches to contact the NCAA.

"I can assure you when I was coaching, if I knew anything I sure as heck told the NCAA, because we were suffering at the hands of those who weren't doing it by the rules," said Teaff, Baylor's head coach during the scandal-ridden 1980s. "I did not hesitate because investigators come around and ask you all these questions. Did you know about this? So if you don't give them the facts, you jeopardize yourself."

As far as he can tell, says Teaff, Fulmer did the right thing.

But Fulmer didn't simply make a phone call to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. He was an active participant in the investigation. At one point in the summer of 2000, for example, he spent eight hours in Chattanooga, Tenn., persuading Internet recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper to cooperate in the probe against Alabama.

Some of this gritty detail surfaced recently in documents released after a three-year federal grand jury investigation into the recruiting of former Memphis high school star Albert Means, a key figure in the NCAA probe that led to the Tide being placed on five years' probation. Alabama booster Logan Young was indicted in October, accused of paying $150,000 to lure Means to Tuscaloosa. Two Alabama assistant coaches, Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams, were fired during the NCAA probe and have since filed lawsuits.

Fueling the flames is Tommy Gallion, the Montgomery attorney representing the dismissed assistants. Gallion has pitched a bevy of conspiracy theories to the media -- some worth investigating and others pure rubbish -- and is bent on bringing down Fulmer's football program.

A familiar Gallion rant puts former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer behind Alabama's probation. But no matter how deep his Tennessee roots or your opinion of Kramer, it would have been goofy and fiscally irresponsible of him to bring down a marquee SEC program. The same can be said for the theory that Fulmer cut a deal with the NCAA to give his Vols program a pass in return for helping get Alabama.

The tantalizing description of Fulmer as a "secret witness" is also misleading. In fact, SI.com has learned there were no secret witnesses in the 'Bama case. A "confidential source" did appear when the case was heard by the Committee on Infractions -- but it wasn't Fulmer.

Further, that source was identified to the university. Alabama officials subsequently interviewed him and signed off on his appearance before the Committee on Infractions.

It's also worth noting that while Gallion's rhetoric may resonate with some Tide loyalists, university administration doesn't endorse or have anything to do with his maverick efforts. This is an unofficial war between UT and 'Bama alums. UT boosters in Memphis clearly started it and, as Gallion sees it, he's just returning fire.

Gallion has had investigators digging up dirt on Tennessee for months, the most intriguing allegation being that the football program fixed or concealed positive drug tests. The attorney plans to drop his latest bag of dirty laundry at the doorstep of the UT legal counsel, perhaps as early as Monday.

NCAA investigators are eager to see Gallion's body of work, and something tells us they soon will. Fulmer has refused to comment on the counter charges, citing the ongoing federal investigation in Memphis.

However, it's clearly payback time in the eyes of Gallion, who is taking dead aim at Fulmer.

"I'm getting ready to pop that fat bastard as hard as I can," the attorney said. "I'm a peculiar person. If you sin, that is your business. But don't be out there doing bad things and turn around and accuse other people of doing the same thing you are doing. Hypocrisy, to me, is the absolute worst."

We'll buy that, but don't blame the man for 'Bama's misdeeds. Then again, if Fulmer has cheated his program deserves to get exposed, too.

Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.

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