Head coach Jeremy Pruitt is one of 10 members of the University of Tennessee football program that have been fired due to an internal investigation into NCAA recruiting violations.
According to The Associated Press, the internal investigation started Nov. 13 and found “serious violations of NCAA rules” within the program. The recruiting violations led to the firings of Pruitt — the head coach since 2018 — along with inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, and seven members of the recruiting and support staff. Athletic director Phillip Fulmer is also retiring, and Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman said that whoever is hired as AD will hire the new head coach.
“While the investigation is continuing the information provided to us indicates serious violations of NCAA rules,” Plowman said. “They occurred. These serious infractions warrant immediate action.
“It was stunning, the number of people involved … and the number of incidents. And so, yes, that was shocking. That’s partly what you see in the level of the actions that were taken today.”
ESPN obtained a copy of the notice of intent to terminate letter sent to Pruitt, which reportedly said "the conduct by at least two assistant coaches and several recruiting staff members are likely to lead to an NCAA finding of Level I and/or Level II violations of one or more Governing Athletic Rules. The University also has concluded that these likely findings were the result of either your material neglect or lack of reasonable preventive compliance measures."
According to Reuters, the school found that Pruitt did not meet “expectations for promoting an atmosphere of compliance and/or monitoring the activities of the coaches and staff who report to him.” Plowman said that the investigation, which was assisted by attorneys from Bond, Shoeneck & King, found Level I and Level II violations. NCAA also investigators opened a case into the issue in December.
Tennessee, which won’t pay Pruitt’s $12.6 million buyout due to terminating him for cause, went 3-7 during the 2020 season to finish the Pruitt era with a 16-19 record. Kevin Steele, who Pruitt hired just last week as a defensive assistant, will serve as the acting head coach.
“The timing of the university’s actions and decision appear to be preordained and more about financial convenience and expediency than a fair and complete factual determination by the university,” Pruitt’s attorney Michael Lyons said in a statement Monday. “Moreover, it seems clear the recent leaks to the press are indicative of an interest to steer the narrative in a way that is desirable to the university to justify a decision likely made weeks ago.
“Coach Pruitt and I look forward to defending any allegation that he has engaged in any NCAA wrongdoing, as well as examining the university’s intent to disparage and destroy coach Pruitt’s reputation in an effort to avoid paying his contractual liquidated damages.”
Reuters reported that the investigation is ongoing.
“For now, I can tell you this: The information provided today indicates a significant number of serious NCAA rules violations,” Plowman said. “While we have no choice but to continue to ask for your patience while both the University and NCAA investigate, the personnel actions we are announcing today are an indication of the gravity of what we have discovered.”