Mumme Resigns As Kentucky Coach

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky football coach Hal Mumme arrived four years ago with dreams of rebuilding a foundering program.

He abruptly exited that program Tuesday, resigning under the cloud of a school investigation into possible NCAA violations.

Athletics Director Larry Ivy introduced the school's new football coach: Kentucky assistant Guy Morriss.

``It's been an emotional 12 hours ... I haven't slept yet,'' said Morriss, who has 18 years of experience as an NFL player and coach. ``I'm excited about this opportunity. I just wish it could have come under better circumstances.

Morriss, 49, spent the last four seasons at Kentucky after one year at Mississippi State. An All-Southwest Conference guard at Texas Christian, Morriss played 15 seasons in the NFL — 11 in Philadelphia and four with New England.

Morriss coached with New England and Arizona in the NFL and had stints at Valdosta State and with San Antonio of the Canadian Football League.

``We're going to do everything we can to right this ship and get the program back on track,'' he said.

Mumme's contract, which was set to expire in 2005, allowed the university to fire him without paying the balance of his $800,000 a year salary if he violated NCAA rules or if a staff member did so with his knowledge.

Ivy said Mumme, 48, did not admit any personal involvement in or knowledge of any violations, but that the school planned to negotiate a severance package with him.

``He felt that the problems we had encountered with our football program were under his watch and that he should share and shoulder the responsibility for those problems,'' Ivy said. ``With the investigation coming up with something new weekly, Hal just didn't think he could remove that cloud.''

Mumme, who went 20-26 in four seasons at Kentucky, did not attend the news conference, but was expected to make a statement Wednesday. He has made no public comment since the school began its internal investigation in November regarding possible recruiting improprieties.

Former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett in January admitted sending $1,400 in money orders to a Memphis, Tenn., high school football coach and improperly cashing a $500 check donated by a booster to help fund Mumme's summer football camp.

Ivy told the school's board of trustees last month that the investigation uncovered several violations, some of which would be deemed major by the NCAA. He said at the time there had been no evidence linking Mumme to any of the violations.

Since that announcement, several newspaper reports claimed that Kentucky assistant coaches asked boosters for money to help pay for recruits to attend Mumme's football camps, a violation of NCAA rules.

The school could not provide proof that nearly 20 recruits, including Kentucky Mr. Football Montrell Jones, paid the fee to attend Mumme's camp last summer.

The resignation came the day before high school players can begin signing letters-of-intent with college programs. Several high-profile recruits who verbally committed to Kentucky withdrew their pledges in the weeks following the start of the investigation.

``There are two things that are of utmost importance to me,'' Ivy said. ``No. 1 is the welfare of our current student athletes. We've spoken with them on a couple of occasions.

``I was equally concerned about potential student athletes that had committed to us. I did not want to wait until after signing day and then have the decision made, putting them in a position where they felt like they didn't have a choice.''

Mumme was hired by former athletic director C.M. Newton in 1997 to replace Bill Curry, who was fired after a 26-52 record in seven years at Kentucky.

An offensive innovator, Mumme brought with him a wide-open passing attack that showcased the talents of quarterback Tim Couch. Under Mumme, Couch rewrote the Southeastern Conference record book and became the top pick in the 1999 NFL draft.

``Mummeball,'' as his aggressive style of play became known, renewed fan interest in a languishing program. Following a 5-6 record his first season, the Wildcats went 7-5 and 6-6 the next two years and played in back-to-back bowl games — a feat accomplished only twice previously in the 109-year history of the program.

After boasting that his squad was ready to challenge perennial Southeastern Conference powers Florida and Tennessee entering the 2000 season, the Wildcats lost their final eight games to finish 2-9.