The University of Tennessee is no stranger to the world of contract buyouts, with the athletic department on an eight-figure hook covering several departed coaches in recent years. But the school made news this week when it fired head football coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine members of his staff for cause, "which tells you the level of the allegations against him," according to Volquest.com editor Brent Hubbs, who spoke to CBS affiliate WVLT News on Monday.
Tennessee fired Pruitt and the others Monday, after an investigation revealed a significant number of NCAA rules violations. Seven members of Pruitt's recruiting and support staff were among the 10 released.
UT chancellor Donde Plowman stated during a news conference on campus Monday that the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference have been sent the internal investigation results, with the SEC already looking into the matter.
A source told Dan Patrick of The Dan Patrick Show that Tennessee recruiting had gotten "sloppy," to the point that McDonald's bags containing cash were being handed to recruits during their visits to Knoxville.
Firing Pruitt for cause spares the university from having to pay a $12.6 million buyout on his contract alone.
As reported by WVLT, school president Randy Boyd said at Monday’s news conference, “Integrity starts at the top. We want to do things the right way and if you can’t win that way, you don’t belong here.” Plowman let it be known that no allegations have been levied against retiring athletics director and former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer.
Hours after the firing, Pruitt attorney Michael Lyons released a statement, calling the move an “orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises.”
According to Lyons, the university's action appeared “to be preordained and more about financial convenience and expediency than a fair and complete factual determination by the University. 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."
Pruitt's Volunteers finished the 2020 season 3-7. The coach compiled a 16-19 record at Tennessee since his hiring in 2017.