On June 21, 2009, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman received the following text message from a future Moc: "Happy Father's Day!"
Understandably touched, Shulman responded, "Thanks."
The coach had just broken an NCAA recruiting rule.
"I realize now that that was a violation, but it won't happen again," a shaken Shulman said Thursday following UTC's announcement that it is beginning a two-year NCAA probation for a number of secondary violations involving impermissible or excessive phone calls and texts, including that one.
"I've been calling people closest to me in the profession all day to tell them about it," Shulman said. "They've been tough phone calls."
Former UNLV basketball coach and infamous NCAA target Jerry Tarkanian once darkly joked, "The NCAA's so mad at Kentucky that it just put Cleveland State on probation."
In light of the NCAA's recent visits to Knoxville, it's tempting to paraphrase that statement: "The NCAA's so mad at Tennessee, it just put UTC on probation."
But that doesn't mean the NCAA was wrong about the Chattanooga campus. It has a 432-page book of rules on its side. Shulman and his coaches ran afoul of a few of those rules. The football program under former coach Rodney Allison fumbled a few more of them.
What better way to prove to mid-majors the nation over that the NCAA doesn't just have its binoculars trained on the Southern Cals and Kentuckys of the world than to go after UTC?
Actually, the NCAA's gumshoes didn't discover these violations. UTC turned itself in, throwing itself on the mercy of an organization not often known for compassion in these matters.
No, there aren't any postseason competition or television bans, but that may be due to the wise pre-emptive work of athletic director Rick Hart, who implemented "random phone audits in 2008 to make sure we were in compliance."
Hart acted swiftly and decisively. He pulled Shulman and his staff off the road for four months, dropped recruiters from three to two and took away a scholarship. He took similar measures in other sports where warranted.
And it might have ended there, the NCAA willing to remain in the background, if Shulman had only done as he was told.
"When the investigation first started I had to sign something that I wouldn't talk about this with anybody else," Shulman said. "But I couldn't let it go. I was in charge of this ship. I wanted to know what was going on."
Anyone who knows Shulman personally is anything but surprised by this. He gets jittery waiting for the sun to come up. The man makes caffeine tired. But right is right and wrong is wrong, and Shulman was about to wrong both himself and his employer.
Given a list of three people not to contact, Shulman called them all.
This may not have quite reached the level of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's lies, but it clearly smacked of reckless insubordination.
"There was no gray area here," Shulman said. "This was black and white stuff. I knew the rules."
And his failure to obey them may have cost UTC dearly in the perception department. It caused the NCAA to single him out for a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. It caused Hart a lot of needless headaches.
"We don't believe this is consistent with our values," Hart said of the penalties. "But our actions need to reflect that. We know we've disappointed people who care about us. Hopefully, we've learned from this because it's been a very difficult way to learn."
Shulman was asked if he was afraid that he might lose his job while learning to follow orders.
"I've been worried about everything," he said. "I don't think I've slept in a year. On the one hand I've been dreading this day. On the other hand I've been looking forward to it, because now it's behind us."
The coach about to enter his seventh season running the Mocs breathed a long and grateful sigh that Hart displayed heart with his coaches.
"You live and learn," he said. "I'm just so thankful that I still get to coach at Chattanooga."
Particularly because he could be coaching nowhere.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.