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Fulmer says he's not a coward

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he
wanted to be in Alabama talking about football at Southeastern
Conference media days.

Instead, Fulmer stayed in Tennessee on Thursday and talked about
lawsuits through speakerphone to reporters gathered in Hoover, Ala.

"I apologize for any distraction all this has caused," Fulmer
said at the beginning of a 10-minute statement. "I think it's very
important to understand that a lot of people believe the entire
NCAA enforcement process is at stake. If we have no enforcement
process, all we have is chaos -- much like a country without an army
or a city without a policeman."

Fulmer announced this week that he was heeding the advice of lawyers
and wouldn't attend in person because of his involvement in
lawsuits stemming from recruiting violations uncovered at Alabama.

Attorneys representing two former Alabama assistant coaches
suing the NCAA claim that Fulmer conspired with the agency to bring
down the Crimson Tide football program.

Fulmer called the conspiracy allegation "absurd."

"To blame me or any coach -- any of the numerous coaches -- that
told the NCAA about what they knew or what they heard about
cheating is wrong," Fulmer said. "If we hear a rumor, you report
it, and it's up to the NCAA to prove or disprove it. Now a small
group of attorneys -- radical attorneys, who are on their own -- have
undertaken their own agenda to smear the NCAA and anyone else who
stands in their way."

Summaries of three interviews Fulmer had with an NCAA
investigator in 2000 were released in January from a federal court
in Memphis, where a former Alabama booster is awaiting criminal
trial on charges he paid $150,000 to steer a high school prospect
to Alabama.

While other SEC and Big Ten coaches spoke to the NCAA about
their suspicions, the attorneys for former Tide coaches Ronnie
Cottrell and Ivy Williams have focused on Fulmer. Attorney Tommy
Gallion had said he would try to get Fulmer served a subpoena while
he was in Alabama to force him to give a deposition. After hearing
Fulmer was not attending, Gallion promised he would not serve
Fulmer.

Fulmer didn't believe that.

"I don't put much credit in anything they say," he said before
the teleconference.

Fulmer's decision to not attend has been criticized in the
media, and he responded.

"A couple of you have called me a coward. I was really
disappointed to see that," he said. "You can talk about my
coaching if we lose. You can talk about my play-calling in games.
You can talk about my physique if you choose to step that low, but [calling me a]
'coward' is across the line."

Fulmer was in a room near his office with two attorneys, a
football assistant and a university public relations official as
delivered his statement and answered questions -- most about the
legal situation and some about football.

"I didn't get anything that I thought was out of line. I feel
like our points were made," Fulmer told The Associated Press after
the teleconference.

Fulmer is also being sued by former Alabama recruit and
Tennessee player Kenny Smith because he told the NCAA investigator
he had heard rumors Smith's mother was involved with a Tide
assistant coach. The NCAA and American Football Coaches Association
have filed a lawsuit in Knoxville to prevent coaches from being
sued over what they tell investigators.

Fulmer called the Smith lawsuit "frivolous."

"Our motion to dismiss was continued several weeks ago to next
Monday by the rogue lawyers and the timing of that is not
coincidental," he said. "On the recommendation of my attorneys
and those of the NCAA and AFCA and our university general counsel,
I am not going to fuel that lawsuit (by appearing in Alabama)."