Expert legal counsel might come in handy, considering that Phillip Fulmer seems to deal with as much “political football” as college football whenever he prepares to venture into the state of Alabama.
Four years ago, he incurred a $10,000 fine from the SEC for electing to make his Media Days comments by telephone hookup rather than in person. Fulmer skipped Hoover in order to avoid being subpoenaed in a lawsuit related to his testimony regarding recruiting violations that led to NCAA penalties against the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.
Fulmer's appearances at Media Days in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were relatively incident-free but today's return engagement was filled with controversy.
A process server hired by lawyers representing Chattanooga's Wendell Smith reportedly approached the Vol coach as he prepared to enter the Wynfrey Hotel, site of Media Days. According to Brandon Blankenship, one of Smith's attorneys, the server said, “I've got something for you,” and handed the subpoena to Fulmer.
Questioned about the incident when he met with reporters in the Media Days print interview room, however, the Vol boss refuted this version of the story.
“I have not seen that. I have not seen a subpoena,” he said in response to a direct question. “As I said to all the other groups (radio and TV), this is not the place for that kind of thing. There are great fans that have great passion about the Southeastern Conference that are not interested in that kind of BS.”
With a quick smile, he added: “And I would have some other choice words if there weren't so many cameras in here.”
Minutes later, another reporter tried to revive the topic of the subpoena. Fulmer cut him off in mid-question with a polite but firm response:
“I've talked all about that I'm going to talk about that. If you have a question about a schedule or a team or anything, I'd be glad to talk to you. Otherwise, I'm not talking about it any further.”
Incredibly, Fulmer may have to go before a judge to determine whether the Vol coach was or was not served a subpoena.
"I'm confident the evidence will prove he was served," Blankenship told The Associated Press.
Following allegations that he paid a Tide recruit, Smith was disassociated from the Bama program by order of NCAA brass. He is suing the association for defamation, claiming its action amounts to slander. Apparently believing Fulmer's testimony to NCAA investigators may have contributed to his disassociation, Smith is trying to force the Vol coach to give a deposition Sept. 25 in Birmingham.
The timing of the deposition is no accident. Fulmer could be in Alabama on that date, since his Vols visit Auburn on Sept. 27.