Tennessee fired football head coach Jeremy Pruitt Monday during an ongoing investigation into the program’s potential recruiting violations.
The university and NCAA found evidence of multiple Level I and Level II NCAA recruiting rules violations under Pruitt’s watch. University of Tennessee chancellor Dondee Plowman called the findings stunning.
“The information provided today indicates a significant number of serious NCAA rules violations,” Plowman said. “The personnel actions we are announcing today are an indication of the gravity of what we’ve discovered.”
According to sources, Tennessee’s recruitment of Amarius Mims, who signed with Georgia, is part of the investigation. Mims was the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 19 overall player in ESPN’s 2021 recruiting rankings.
Tennessee in its termination letter to Jeremy Pruitt: “Your failures are likely to lead to significant penalties to the University and has jeopardized the eligibility of our student athletes.”
— David Ubben (@davidubben) January 18, 2021
Prior to the 2020 season, Pruitt signed a contract extension to remain with Tennessee through 2025. The agreement included a raise to Pruitt’s salary that would begin in 2021. However, the university will not pay Pruitt’s $12.9 million buyout clause because he was fired for a cause. His termination will take effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Interim Head Coach
Newly hired defensive assistant Kevin Steele will take over as the Volunteers’ interim coach. Steele, who served as Baylor’s head coach from 1999-2002 and Auburn’s defensive coordinator the past five seasons, was a finalist for Tennessee’s head-coaching job when Pruitt was hired. “Although he only recently joined the Volunteers, he has the right leadership experience,” Plowman said.
Steele will be a candidate for the Volunteers’ next official head-coaching position. “We want to win here, but we want to win with integrity,” Plowman added. “We’re going to be looking for coaches who have that same philosophy, and I’m very optimistic that there are many of them out there.”
Amid the investigation, Tennessee is parting ways with nine other staff members. The university fired assistant coaches, Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton. Niedermeyer was considered Tennessee’s top recruiter.
Additionally, UT let go of four members of the on-campus football recruiting staff, the director and assistant director of player personnel and a football analyst.
Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, a Hall of Fame football coach, will step down after holding the position for three years. Fulmer’s retirement is unrelated to the investigation as he plans to allow his successor to choose the next head football coach. “It only makes sense that I [retire] this semester so that a new coach with a new athletic director can implement their vision together,” Fulmer said.
In his three-year tenure as head coach, Pruitt compiled a 16-19 record including a Gator Bowl win over Indiana. He went 10-16 against SEC opponents and 2-11 versus ranked opponents. Under Pruitt, Tennessee finished the 2020 season with a 3-7 record before opting out of the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia due to COVID-19 cases.
Pruitt’s departure marks the fourth football head-coaching change this season in the SEC. He joins Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp.