Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Ex-Bama coach getting help from friends



By Jay Reeves
The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - No, fired Alabama football coach Mike Price isn't a binge drinker who hangs out in strip joints, and he isn't getting divorced from his wife. Just ask his sister-in-law.

An idea from Joan Rice spawned the Internet site (www.friendsofmikeprice.com) in the wake of Price's scandalous departure from the University of Alabama.

Rice is the older sister of Joyce Price, the coach's wife. She came up with the idea for a Web site supporting Price partly because stories that led to his ouster in May began circulating on the Internet.

Plus, Rice just wanted to show support for her sister's husband, who she has known for about 50 years and admires greatly.

"They've got one of the best marriages I've ever seen," Rice said Tuesday.

Rice enlisted the help of her ex-husband, Ty Rice of Mercer Island, Wash., and the site was born last month.

Rice, a hotel broker who has known Price for 35 years, said in an interview the Web site has received more than 12,000 visits in the last 1 1/2 months, including hundreds in recent days as word spread of its existence.

Much of the site's aim is shooting down what it says are unfounded rumors, including talk that Price, 57, and his wife are headed for a split. The two are staying together, Ms. Rice said.

The site also denies that Price often drank heavily in Tuscaloosa before his infamous night at a strip club in Pensacola, Fla.

"Mike did not have time to party or binge drink. He was working 12-15 hours every day; meeting with players and coaches, recruiting, speaking at events on behalf of (Alabama) and going to other functions representing the football department," it reads.

Rice said he has drank alcohol many times with Price through the decades, but always in private situations and never to excess.

"You sit around on the Fourth of July and have a few beers. You don't get falling down drunk in front of your kids," he said.

Price has admitted getting heavily intoxicated in a strip bar in Pensacola in April, a transgression Rice called "a one-time thing."

The site includes a note of thanks from Price and dozens of letters of support from friends, fans, fellow coaches and former players. Many are from people with ties to Washington State, where Price coached for 14 years before coming to Alabama.

Price is appealing his dismissal by Alabama, and he filed a $20 million lawsuit last week over a Sports Illustrated article about his night in Pensacola.




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