Fulmer responds to criticism of disciplinary actions toward players in column

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer lashed out at criticism about player disciplinary decisions in a newspaper column.

In the column published on The Knoxville News Sentinel's Web site Thursday night, Fulmer said he has never used a player's skill or athletic success in deciding how he should be disciplined for an off-the-field problem.

"Our internal discipline is based on one factor alone: the course that is most likely to help that individual young man make amends and get his life straight," Fulmer wrote in the column that will appear in Friday's edition.

"I've undoubtedly made some mistakes, but I try to do what I think is in the best interest for each young man."

The 15-year coach specifically responded to an opinion piece by News Sentinel columnist John Adams published earlier in the week calling for Fulmer to be fired because of a series of off-the-field discipline problems.

In less than two months, eight players have been arrested or disciplined for breaking team rules.

Most recently, junior Britton Colquitt was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crime after allegedly hitting a parked car early Sunday morning.

The All-Southeastern Conference punter was suspended as a freshman in 2004 after multiple alcohol-related charges. Fulmer punished Colquitt on Monday by suspending him for five games and revoking his scholarship.

"How could Fulmer not dismiss Colquitt from the team after what could be a fifth alcohol-related offense?" Adams wrote. "Answer: Colquitt is a starter.

"You can't blame Fulmer for the crimes committed by his players and former players. But he is responsible for disciplining players while they're on his team," Adams said. "And he has failed miserably at that."

Adams' column in Tuesday's edition drew hundreds of responses on the newspaper's Web site and on sports talk radio, mostly from fans complaining of Adams' column.

Fulmer's response is the first time the coach has responded to criticism in a newspaper column, though he did address a story by another News Sentinel columnist in a postgame press conference in 2007.

Immediately after a 35-14 victory over Georgia and just weeks after Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy exploded in his well-publicized rant, Fulmer called the column, which quoted anonymous former players questioning the attitude and direction of the team, a "cheap shot."

Fulmer said he will accept any criticism from Adams about the play of the program.

"What I will not accept is Mr. Adams questioning my integrity, my sense of fairness, or values as a man," Fulmer wrote.