Following an internal investigation by the University of Tennessee, Jeremy Pruitt was fired for cause on Monday over uncovered NCAA recruiting violations. Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer announced that he too will be departing from UT, as he will retire when the university finds a new athletics director, though Fulmer said his eventual retirement is unrelated to the current investigation.
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, interim UT President Randy Boyd and Fulmer addressed the media about allegations of NCAA recruiting violations against the football program at a press conference on Wednesday, where Fulmer also announced his retirement. Bond, Schoeneck & King, a Kansas law firm that UT brought in to conduct the internal investigation, uncovered the unspecified violations. Plowman mentioned a second investigation the NCAA is currently conducting on the alleged violations, but she was unable to discuss it in detail.
Though Plowman was unable to say what violations the internal investigation uncovered, the investigation found enough to justify the firing of head coach Jeremy Pruitt, assistant coach Brian Niedermeyer, assistant coach Shelton Felton and seven other members of the football staff.
“Coach Jeremy Pruitt is the leader of the football program,” Plowman said. “He is responsible for hiring assistant coaches, and the staff, and making sure that those who report to him comply with the NCAA rules. This is written into his employment contract. In addition, under the NCAA bylaws, he is presumed responsible for the actions of all staff members who report to him, either directly or indirectly.”
Tennessee recently hired former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to join the staff in Knoxville as a defensive assistant coach, but Plowman announced that she and Fulmer decided to promote Steele to head coach following Pruitt’s firing.
However, it is possible that Steele does not remain the head coach for long. Plowman and Fulmer decided to allow Fulmer’s future replacement to select his own head coach.
“Great ADs hire great coaches, and we’re going to start with a great AD,” Plowman said.
Plowman said Pruitt will not receive his buyout, which USA TODAY reported was $12.6 million, as he was fired with cause. One of the causes he can be fired for is Level I or Level II NCAA offenses, which may be why he was terminated, according to the Tennessean.
On Monday, Michael Lyons, Pruitt’s lawyer, called Pruitt’s firing “an orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises made to Coach Pruitt.” Lyons announced that Pruitt was prepared to defend against any accusations of NCAA violations.
Though Plowman, Fulmer and Boyd attempted to reassure players and parents of the stability and values of the program, the investigations may already be affecting the team itself. According to 247sports, two of Tennessee’s top recruits in the 2021 recruiting class, four-star wide receiver Jordan Mosley and four-star offensive tackle Colby Smith, both de-committed the day the press conference was held. Three-star defensive end Jimmy Scott of the 2022 class de-committed two days later on Jan. 20. Dylan Brooks, the top-rated recruit in the 2021 recruiting class for the Vols, has also submitted a National Letter of Intent Release Request after signing with Tennessee in December.
Follow future TNJN coverage for updates on Tennessee football and the ongoing investigations into the program.
Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of Ben Gleason