MIKE PRICE: FIRED
On April 23 an Auburn fan with the screen name EagleKlaw visited autigers.com, a website for Tigers boosters, and posted a message that may well have marked the beginning of the end of Mike Price's brief tenure as football coach at bitter rival Alabama: "Someone told me the night before the [Emerald Coast Classic Pro-Am] that Mike Price had lost his Visa card and was in a panic because of who he was with when he lost it. Has anyone else heard about this?" Another fan, TigerRat, replied the next morning: "I hear it was a couple of working girls."
The subject of Price's behavior while in Pensacola., Fla., for the golf tournament soon became the talk of sports radio shows throughout the Southeast. It was reported that Price had in fact been in a strip club for several hours, spending hundreds of dollars on drinks, private dances and tips for the dancers, and that the next morning an unidentified woman had charged nearly $1,000 of hotel room service on the coach's credit card. Last Saturday, following a meeting of the university's board of trustees, Price, a surprise hire last December when he was given a seven-year, $10 million contract to leave Washington State, was fired before ever coaching a game for the Crimson Tide.
"He was a nice enough guy, but he never really fit in," one Alabama booster who asked to remain anonymous said of Price, a Colorado native who had spent all but three years of his coaching career west of the Rockies. "Coming from where he came from, I don't think he could really grasp what a spotlight he was in. This is a different world down here when it comes to our football. You really need a little good ol' boy, a hair of redneck and a lot of back-slapping in you. Everyone in the state is a critic, and everywhere you go, people are watching. He never got that this ain't the Pac-10."
From numerous interviews with people who spent time with or saw Price in Pensacola, SI has pieced together the following account of the events that ultimately led to his dismissal: On April 16, Price flew from Tuscaloosa to Pensacola aboard the jet of Alabama businessman James Lee III, en route to the Emerald Coast Classic, a stop on the PGA Champions tour that was to be played that weekend. Price was part of the field for the celebrity pro-am.
The 57-year-old coach had barely hit the ground in Pensacola that afternoon when he headed to Arety's Angels, one of the city's six strip clubs, settled at a table not far from the main stage and started buying drinks for dancers, according to two witnesses interviewed last week by SI. "He introduced himself as Mike," said waitress Amanda York. "But I love Alabama football, and I knew who he was. So later I leaned down and called him 'Coach.' He just held his finger to his lips as if to say, 'Don't tell.' "
According to the two witnesses, Price spent most of his time that afternoon buying dances from and drinks for Lori (Destiny) Boudreaux, a 36-year-old married mother of two who has worked in strip clubs for 15 years. "He offered to buy me a drink and asked me to sit with him," Boudreaux told SI. "I offered him a table dance. He tipped me $60. Then he asked me to take him to the semiprivate dance area. He got a little bad there. We have rules, and touching is not allowed."
Boudreaux said Price told her that he was married and had kids but never mentioned what he did for a living. "He told me I was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen," Boudreaux said. "He kept telling me he had a room at the [Crowne Plaza] Hotel, and he wanted me to meet him there late that night. He was definitely persistent. I told him my husband was coming to pick me up after work, which he did, by the way. "
After about two hours at the club, Price headed to the golf tournament's sponsors' dinner. "On his way out, he told me to remember his offer and to meet him at the hotel," Boudreaux told SI. "In 15 years I've had thousands of men ask me to meet them after work. He was asking in ways that told me he'd done this before." At dinner Price "shook hands and worked the room pretty well," according to a coach in attendance. "He gave no indication that he had been out on the town already, and when several of us looked for him after dinner to go out, he was already gone."
Apparently Price made a beeline back to the club, which prides itself, said owner Arety Kapetanis, on being "a bar so friendly, it should be known as Cheers with tits." And this time everybody knew Price's name.