Asked why he met with Tom Culpepper in Chattanooga in the summer of 2000, just days before NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier rang Culpepper’s phone for the first time, Fulmer said, “I’m not going to answer that at this time because it’s kind of ongoing.”
In his first appearance at the media event since 2003, Fulmer chose not answer questions about his involvement in as a confidential witness in the NCAA’s investigation of Alabama, about his secret correspondences with then-SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, about his clandestine meeting with Culpepper in Chattanooga, about questionable statements he made on Paul Finebaum’s radio show the day after he became a secret witness nor about what level of contact he had with the NCAA.
Still, he found plenty to talk about in his opening statement, which lasted somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes and left about 10-15 minutes for questions for the largest grouping of media at the event and the television cameras of ESPNU, which was scheduled to broadcast live from the room.
“Obviously there's a lot of interest in the last year that was swirling all around the trial stuff and a lot of intense media coverage, especially here in Alabama, and theatrics that were worthy of Oscars,” Fulmer said.
Then the pot called the kettle black.
Fulmer continued his monologue hitting on some of the NCAA’s favorite talking points, and adding some of his on bold and brazen language.
“The college football system of self-governance prevailed,” he said. “The facts that came through all of that, there was cheating in Memphis, Tenn.”
He excoriated Logan Young without mentioning his name, noting that there was a trial and conviction in Memphis.
He derided Tommy Gallion without ever speaking his name, saying “a few people outside the mainstream of college sports tried to retaliate and lost the ridiculous and absurd conspiracy theories in the courts."
But come question time, there was no comment about his own role in this crusade for justice. We were left to assume his motives were pristine in the secret letters to the SEC commissioner, secret meetings with others had nothing to do with crippling Alabama and who knows what else.
Prepared remarks were one thing for Fulmer, but talking about accountability and practicing it were two very different things for the Tennessee coach on Wednesday.
Comparatively speaking, Fulmer seemed eager to talk about his team’s behavioral issues, and a USA Today article today with the interrogatory headline “Is Tennessee football out of bounds?” (click here to view)
Fulmer’s comments became downright bizarre as he attempted to run out the clock on the question and answer session.
In response to a question about whether he felt he needed to lean more on his assistants to keep a closer eye on the players during the off-season, Fulmer’s answer eventually meandered around to an odd story about a former player.
“I had a young man long time ago that we signed from Detroit, Michigan and he came to campus and since he was in 8th grade he carried a gun. I said, ‘we don't -- I mean, you don't have to carry one in Knoxville, Tenn. It's not like that.’ It took a little cultural change for him but he understood and now he's working and has great job over in Memphis and doing really well with his family but he just didn't understand.”
In the end Fulmer was not harassed or taunted, and it was even noted that a young Alabama fan got Fulmer’s autograph. He was deft at taking an aggressive stance about his involvement in Alabama’s NCAA infractions case and explaining his self-described altruistic motives, and in fending off questions he didn’t like.
His performance Wednesday did nothing if not beg the question of why he didn’t take the same approach a year ago. For that matter, it begs asking why he didn’t want to tell his story under oath last year, or even in the light of day in 2000.