Sunday, January 18, 2004

Fulmer out of bounds with defective detective work



By DAVID CLIMER
The Tennessean

Note to Phillip Fulmer: Get a hobby. Take up golf. Go fishing. Start a book club. Do something.

Look, if coaching a college football team isn't enough to keep you busy, I'm sure there are some other things you can do around the University of Tennessee campus. Why not audit a couple of courses in criminal justice?

Fulmer apparently has a lot of extra time on his hands - so much time, in fact, that he was able to conduct his own investigation of the Alabama football program instead of leaving it to the NCAA enforcement division.

Word of Fulmer's Columbo routine have surfaced in court documents from a federal lawsuit in Memphis. Those documents show that Fulmer met with recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper for eight hours in the summer of 2000 and secretly taped 90 minutes of the meeting.

The documents also show that Fulmer twice called NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier to supply information about alleged cheating by Alabama. In turn, Johanningmeier designated Fulmer as a "confidential source" in the NCAA's investigation of Alabama.

So much for confidentiality.

Those who defend Fulmer's actions believe that he was merely protecting his turf. If UT was losing prime recruits because Alabama was cheating, why not intervene and roll the Tide? Isn't this a form of professional self-defense?

But Phillip Fulmer stepped out of bounds. Nowhere in his contract does it certify him as a private investigator. Since when is a college football coach paid to moonlight as a gumshoe?

There is a protocol for matters such as this. If a coach believes that an opposing program is cheating, he is supposed to pass that information along to his superiors, who then decide the appropriate action. The last thing you're supposed to do is set up clandestine meetings and hide a tape recorder in your pocket.

Just a thought: If Fulmer had used that time evaluating talent and laying better groundwork for the next recruiting class, would the Vols have signed a quarterback that winter? If so, UT wouldn't be entering the upcoming season with such a void behind center.

Certainly, Fulmer's magnificent obsession with nailing Alabama is nothing new. In 2002, he was admonished by the UT administration for his actions in re-recruiting Eric Locke, an in-state player who signed with and played for Alabama before transferring to Tennessee. The Vols also forfeited two scholarships for booster involvement with Locke.

Locke had little value on the field (16 touches for 118 yards via runs, pass receptions and returns in 2000) but many believe he was pursued by Fulmer because he might provide incriminating evidence against Alabama.

Whether Locke spilled the beans on 'Bama is unclear. What is clear, though, is that Fulmer's reputation took a hit and two scholarships were sacrificed in the process.

The Locke episode, the release of court documents and other recent developments portray Fulmer as a coach who tends to operate on his own rather than adhere to UT policy. Instead of consulting his superiors or the university's legal counsel, he seeks advice from his personal attorney, Jeff Hagood.

That's fine if you're negotiating a private business deal but not when you are proceeding as a representative of the university.

Next time, go fishing.




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