Why Phillip Fulmer got banned from UT Vols football practice for coaching linemen
Phillip Fulmer couldn’t help himself.
Tennessee’s athletics director saw a couple of offensive linemen who he thought needed coaching during a drill last fall. So Fulmer, the former Vols coach, jumped in and coached them up.
That’s an NCAA violation.
Fulmer’s mistake was among eight NCAA violations that Tennessee reported during the last six months of 2018. UT released a report detailing the violations to USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee in response to a public records request.
Fulmer’s infraction was among three violations by the football program during the six-month period. The women’s basketball program also had three violations, and men’s basketball and softball each had one.
All the violations were rated Level III infractions, which are minor and resulted in mild discipline. For the year, Tennessee self-reported 14 violations, all of which were Level III.
“Level III violations are a byproduct of a healthy compliance program,” Andrew Donovan, UT's associate athletics director for compliance, said in a statement to USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee. “There are thousands of NCAA rules and interpretations of those rules, so it is expected that inadvertent, minor violations may occur on occasion.
"We have a strong culture of compliance at the University of Tennessee. Our coaches and staff are fully committed to doing things the right way. They view compliance as a shared responsibility and hold themselves and each other accountable.”
What discipline did Phillip Fulmer receive?
Fulmer’s coaching violated NCAA bylaw 22.214.171.124, which pertains to the number and duties of coaches.
The bylaw states that an institutional staff member must count against coaching staff limits if he engages in technical or tactical instruction with players, assists in tactical decisions during games or practice, or engages in off-campus recruiting.
Fulmer regularly attends and observes Tennessee football practices, which does not violate NCAA bylaws. His violation occurred during a Sept. 11 practice, according to the violations report.
Fulmer “provided brief encouragement/instruction to two football student-athletes who were engaged in a blocking drill,” the report states. “The encouragement/instruction lasted less than 30 seconds.
“The Director of Athletics is a former football coach. He was acting on instinct communicating encouragement/instruction to two offensive linemen as he walked past a drill while viewing the team’s practice.”
Fulmer self-reported the incident upon learning he might have committed an NCAA violation, according to the report.
Tennessee, in response, educated Fulmer on what “constitutes technical and tactical instruction.” Additionally, the SEC ruled that Fulmer be prohibited from attending practice for five days and that UT educate all coaches and non-coaching staff members on bylaws pertaining to coaching activity. The NCAA took no additional action.
Other football violations
Tennessee’s football program also had two recruiting violations.
One occurred when a junior-college recruit who was a non-qualifier and is in the first year of junior college visited Tennessee and had contact with the coaching staff. NCAA bylaws prohibit coaches from having in-person recruiting contact with a non-qualifier who is in his first year of junior college.
The SEC ruled that Tennessee’s offending staff members could not participate in on-campus recruiting activities for seven days and that Tennessee not be allowed to have contact with the recruit for 30 days once in-person contact becomes permissible.
Additionally, a Vols assistant called the father of a recruit who was a junior in high school before the first permissible contact date.
UT responded by prohibiting the assistant coach from having phone conversations or electronic communication with recruits for 14 days in October, and all communication with that recruit was prohibited for 30 days during the fall.
Infractions by other sports teams
The women’s basketball program had two recruiting violations.
In one instance, an assistant coach had communication with a recruit before receiving permission to contact from the recruit’s previous institution. In the other case, coach Holly Warlick and an assistant coach spoke at the National Exposure Basketball Report Coaches Clinic. Several other Division I coaches attended, too.
NCAA bylaws prohibit athletics staffers from working or volunteering at a camp or clinic established or sponsored by a recruiting service.
Additionally, an athletic department staffer committed a violation for a tweet that was deemed impermissible promotion of the McDonald’s All-American Game, at which three incoming Lady Vols participated.
Schools commonly promote when signees are set to compete in all-star games, but Tennessee learned “that inclusion of Twitter handles and logos for the event have been deemed an impermissible promotion.”
The men’s basketball violation occurred when a former player gave a current player a ticket to a premium seating area for UT’s home football game against East Tennessee State. The ticket was deemed an impermissible extra benefit. As part of UT’s discipline, the current player repaid the value of the benefit, $25, to a charity, the Emerald Youth Foundation.
The softball team’s violation occurred during the SEC tournament. Tennessee’s team and coaching staff, including student managers and a volunteer assistant, attended a game on a day when UT did not participate.
Tennessee was “unaware of the nuanced NCAA rule that prohibits non-coaching staff members from attending games on a day in which their team is not scheduled to compete.” The bylaw is intended to prohibit scouting. UT reported that its student managers and volunteer assistant were not engaged in scouting.
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