Tennessee fires Pruitt, 9 others for ‘serious’ NCAA issues

  • FILE - New Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, right, receives a personalized jersey from athletic director Phillip Fulmer during his introductory news conference in Knoxville, Tenn., in this Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, file photo. Tennessee fired Pruitt Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. The university also announced Monday that Phillip Fulmer will retire as athletic director. (AP Photo/Steve Megargee, FIle) Steve Megargee

  • FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2019, file photo, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt yells at the officials during an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Tennessee fired Pruitt Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File) Vasha Hunt

  • FILE - Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt calls out to his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn in Aubuen, Ala., in this Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in file photo. Tennessee fired Pruitt Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File) Butch Dill

  • FILE - Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer stands on the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia State in Knoxville, Tenn., in this Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, file photo. Tennessee fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. The university also announced Monday that Phillip Fulmer will retire as athletic director. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File) Wade Payne

  • FILE - Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt watches during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Florida in KNoxville, Tenn., in this Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, file photo. Tennessee fired Pruitt Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Randy Sartin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, Pool, File) Randy Sartin

  • FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee fired Pruitt Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File) Wade Payne

AP Sports Writer
Published: 1/18/2021 5:09:02 PM

Tennessee has fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt, two assistants and seven members of the Volunteers’ recruiting and support staff for cause after an internal investigation found what the university chancellor called “serious violations of NCAA rules.”

Chancellor Donde Plowman said Pruitt was responsible for overseeing the program. Tennessee has been conducting an internal investigation since at least the middle of November into allegations of recruiting violations.

“The personnel actions we are announcing today is an indication of the gravity of what we’ve discovered,” Plowman said.

Also fired Monday were assistant football coaches Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton, four members of the on-campus football recruiting staff, the director and assistant director of football player personnel and a football analyst/quality control coach.

Plowman said they were briefed Friday by attorneys from Bond, Shoeneck & King from Kansas, who were retained on Nov. 19 to assist the university’s investigation. The investigation has been seen as an attempt to avoid a buyout of approximately $12.8 million for Pruitt and about $18.6 million for the entire football staff.

The chancellor said the potential NCAA issues involved Level I and II violations with a number of people and incidents. NCAA investigators became more actively involved within the past 10 days.

“It was stunning, the number of people involved, ... and the number of incidents,” Plowman said. “And so, yes, that was shocking. That’s partly what you see in the level of the actions that were taken today.”

This means Tennessee will not be paying Pruitt a $12.6 million buyout after he went 16-19 in three seasons.

“His termination was for cause, which means no buyout,” Plowman said.

Pruitt went 3-7 in an SEC-only season with each loss by double digits. Tennessee had been picked to play in the Liberty Bowl but withdrew a day later after a batch of positive COVID-19 results, including Pruitt.

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer, 70, will be retiring, and Tennessee is retaining a search firm to help hire a new athletic director. Plowman said that athletic director then will hire the new coach.

“I’m not going to be the athletic director at age 80,” said Fulmer. “It was always my expectation I was going to move on from athletics sooner rather than later. It only makes sense that I make that move this semester so a new coach and a new athletic director can implement their vision together.”

Kevin Steele, hired last week as a defensive assistant coach, will act as the acting coach. Plowman and Fulmer planned to meet with the football team later Monday with the next signing day Feb. 3.

Pruitt ends a tenure that started after a tumultuous coaching search highlighted by Tennessee replacing John Currie as athletic director with Fulmer.




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