The cleaning of Tennessee’s football house started Monday with coach Jeremy Pruitt being fired and athletics director Phillip Fulmer jumping off the ship.
ESPN’s Chris Lowe and Mark Schlabach reported the moves just before noon Monday. Pruitt is fired for cause and Fulmer announced his plans to retire as athletics director.
All of this is the result of the Vols launching an in-house investigation dating back to November into alleged recruiting improprieties that sources told ESPN centered in part on extra benefits provided to football recruits on unofficial visits.
Pruitt, with his attorneys present, met with investigators for several hours last Thursday. That meeting was monitored by NCAA officials via Zoom, according to ESPN.
At least one other assistant, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, had a lengthy meeting with investigators last Wednesday, also with his attorneys present and NCAA officials monitoring virtually.
Last month Tennessee retained the services of attorneys Michael Glazier and Kyle Skillman with the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm to assist in reviewing what the university said in a statement were “regulatory issues that have been brought to our attention.”
Sources told ESPN that Tennessee’s recruitment of Amarius Mims, the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 19 player overall in the 2021 ESPN 300 rankings, is part of the inquiry. Mims signed with Georgia.
This comes at an unusual time in the hiring cycle and Pruitt is now the fourth coach in the SEC fired during a season filled with covid-19 and other issues.
Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Derek Mason at Vanderbilt and Will Muschamp at South Carolina were previously fired, but Pruitt is the only one that’s not getting paid to leave town. He was due about $12 million, according to reports.
His contract includes more than 30 fire-for-cause provisions. Among them, he can be fired for cause if he engaged in conduct likely to result in an NCAA finding of a Level I or Level II rules violation, or if someone who reports to Pruitt engaged in conduct that constitutes a Level I or II violation or is likely to result in such a violation and the university determines Pruitt was negligent in his oversight or lacked reasonable preventative compliance measures.
Additionally, he can be fired for cause for a failure to promote and maintain an atmosphere of compliance or a failure to monitor employees who report to him.
Pruitt, 46, compiled a record of 16-19, including a 3-7 mark in 2020 against a conference-only schedule. He was 16-19 overall at Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. The Vols were 2-11 against AP-ranked opponents under Pruitt, who was in his first stint as a head coach. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban.
Fulmer had come back as athletics director in 2017