University of Kentucky coaches thought they had pulled off a recruiting coup when they signed Mr. Football Curtis Pulley in February 2005.
Now, 3 1/2 years later, the Curtis Pulley era will be remembered largely for unfulfilled promise.
Pulley's Wildcats career came to an end Tuesday when UK Coach Rich Brooks announced that Pulley had been dismissed for a violation of team rules.
Pulley was cited by Louisville police for marijuana possession in June, then was arrested in July on charges of driving on a suspended or revoked license, speeding and having expired plates or registration. He entered a guilty plea to the marijuana charge and agreed to enter a diversion program. He pleaded guilty to speeding, but the suspended license charge was dismissed.
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Brooks said last week that Pulley would miss playing time but that he would still compete with sophomore Mike Hartline for the starting quarterback job. But Brooks said Tuesday that new information came to light that caused him to change course.
”There was basically a little more as I delved deeper into it than I was aware of at the time,“ Brooks said without elaborating.
Brooks informed the team of Pulley's dismissal after he addressed the media and just before UK took its team picture at Tuesday's Media Day festivities.
UK conducted its first team practice on Tuesday with Hartline operating as the first-team quarterback. Brooks said sophomore Will Fidler will step into the No. 2 spot, with freshmen Randall Cobb, DeAunte Mason and Matt Roark all possibilities to move into the rotation.
Brooks seemed to take some personal responsibility for Pulley not panning out but added that it's time to move on.
”I kind of like to think that we're in the business of taking young men and building them into responsible young men, and obviously I feel like I failed in this situation,“ Brooks said. ”Sometimes for the better good of the whole, some parts have to be sacrificed, because somewhere along the line everybody has to realize there's consequences for their actions.“
Pulley played in nine games as a true freshman in 2005, serving as the team's backup quarterback and as a part-time wide receiver. He finished 31-for-50 for 208 yards passing and also rushed for 149 yards.
Pulley beat out Andre Woodson for the starting quarterback job the following spring, but lost the job in fall camp in part because Woodson showed more reliability over the summer. Pulley continued his role as backup QB/part time receiver that season, catching 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.
But Pulley withdrew from school the following spring for academic and personal reasons before re-enrolling for the fall 2007 semester and redshirting last fall.
Pulley and Hartline battled to a dead heat in spring practice, but Pulley's off-the-field issues gave Hartline a leg up going into fall camp.
Hartline has only played in four career games, completing four of his six pass attempts for 34 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Now he's in the driver's seat to be the Wildcats' starting QB when they open the season.
”Mike has done pretty much everything we've asked him on and off the field,“ Brooks said. ”It would be foolish for me, based on what I saw in the spring and on what we have (at quarterback), to say that Mike Hartline isn't the preemptive starter.“
Pulley's dismissal, paired with Monday's announcement that starting cornerback Paul Warford is ineligible for the year and potential starting offensive guard Christian Johnson was battling academic and injury issues, leaves the Cats without three key performers who were being counted on for the 2008 season. But Brooks said he's confident that the program can weather the storm and contend for a third straight bowl.
”We don't completely fall off the face of the Earth,“ Brooks said. ”We have three guys that were going to be part of it that right now aren't going to be, but I feel like we have enough quality athletes and talent that it's a completely realistic goal.“
Pulley's father, Curtis Pulley Sr., was in Lexington this weekend to visit his son and to speak with the UK coaches.
”They laid out some specific things that Curtis needed to do, but everybody felt like he could eventually move forward and still have a chance to be the starting quarterback,“ Pulley Sr. said.
Pulley Sr. said his son will now transfer to a Division I-AA school where he can compete this fall and still have two seasons of eligibility remaining. The player's father said the UK staff met with his son Tuesday and will try to help him find a new place to play.
”Curtis realizes that he's let his teammates, fans and coaches down,“ Pulley Sr. said. ”He told me, "Dad, I messed up. I understand why Coach Brooks did what he did.' He realizes he's made some mistakes, and hopefully this is something he can learn from. Curtis just needs to grow more as a person more than anything.“
Pulley Sr. said he had been concerned that his son had been hanging around bad influences during his time in Lexington.
”Now all those people aren't going to be there for him,“ Pulley Sr. said. ”He told me that out of all those guys he used to hang with, not one of them have checked in with him to see how he's doing. That's just one of those life lessons. He will just have to get past this, move on and try to become a better man and person because of it.“
Craig Clayton, who coached Pulley at Hopkinsville High School, said Pulley never seemed to adapt to life under the microscope at UK.
”He's a good kid,“ Clayton said. ”He never gave me any problems. He was never in trouble. ... But I just think that once you get to college, it's easier for some kids to not make the right decisions and run with the wrong people. He wasn't out fighting, beating up people or hitting girls; nothing malicious. He's save-able. The only person Curtis ever hurts is himself. Honestly, the things he was doing are probably no different than what 75 percent of college kids are doing.
”But expectations were so high for him, and he probably got caught up in some of the hype.“
UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, who personally recruited Pulley to UK, said he was disappointed.
”When I recruited Curtis, I had all these expectations of him being a great player,“ Phillips said. ”And he is a great player. We just never saw it at Kentucky.“
”A blown opportunity,“ Clayton said. ”It's sad, really.“