Vaught's Views: Plenty to talk about at SEC Media Days

July 27, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

HOOVER, Ala. - Normally the Southeastern Conference Media Days produce some memorable quotes, a few colorful anecdotes and some surprising news.

This year, though, the big news may well be what happened before Media Days even started because beleaguered Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer confirmed Monday that he would not attend.

The SEC responded with a terse announcement noting Fulmer's decision and $10,000 fine if he really is a no-show for his scheduled appearance Thursday.

Suddenly the problems Kentucky coach Rich Brooks has - and he has more than enough after having to suspend players Ricky Abren and Ryan Schumm Monday for disciplinary reasons - don't seem quite as bad.


In the last six months, Fulmer has been accused of conspiring with NCAA officials, sued by a former player and blamed by Alabama fans for the downfall of the Crimson Tide football fortunes.

Court documents revealed that Fulmer and some of his staff agreed to speak to an NCAA investigator in 2000 about certain players Alabama had recruited and the possibility that one Alabama booster was giving money to the recruits.

Fulmer thought his interrogation would remain secret, just as other interviews by countless number of coaches probably has during other NCAA investigations. However, once former Alabama assistant coach Ronnie Cottrell filed suit against the NCAA, Fulmer's answers were made public. The Tennessee coach has also has had a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a former Tennessee player.

Surprisingly, SEC officials had both Alabama and Tennessee scheduled for appearances Thursday. Tennessee officials had already indicated they were worried about Fulmer's safety in Crimson Tide territory, but the coach indicated Monday that he was pulling out of Media Days because he thought he might be served with a subpoena in another court case if he came to Alabama and did not want his appearance to create a circus-like atmosphere.

More storylines than just Fulmer

Not that Fulmer would have been the only interesting storyline.

Today Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville will surely hear more than one reminder about his school's flirtation with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino during the 2003 season. It was a bizarre scenario considering not only had Auburn gone into the season ranked No. 1, but Petrino was Tuberville's offensive coordinator at Auburn before going to Louisville last year.

Tuberville probably would like to put those tumultuous times out of his mind and look ahead to this season, which sees Auburn with a much friendlier schedule. However, he knows he's going to get a lot of new questions about what happened, how he kept his job and how long he'll stay.

Need more conversation? Florida coach Ron Zook is also up today and he'll be able to field questions about having to discipline three players - two for disobeying police and one for allegedly punching a Florida student at a party - in the last two weeks. Zook can whine all he wants about needing to be allowed by the NCAA to spend more time with his players to avoid these situations, but he's still going to have to deal with the problem.

Then there is new Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, the SEC's first black head coach. Any doubt his every word will be scrutinized and overanalyzed? Not only does he face a major rebuilding job, but he also knows he's a pioneer who can help open doors for many others.

Two coaches who should get to field much more pleasant questions are Nick Saban of defending national champion LSU and Mark Richt of Georgia.

Saban's team should be solid again, and he's already close to having a full recruiting class for next year. Richt's team could be even better. Several preseason polls have Georgia No. 1. Almost all polls have the Bulldogs in the top five. But a questionable running game and loaded schedule have to make Richt leery of having his team get caught in the same trap Auburn did last year when Tuberville almost lost his job.

So even if Fulmer stays away - and don't be stunned if he changes his mind - there will still be plenty for a record number of media members to discuss with the coaches and players who aren't afraid to come here.

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