KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — The University of Tennessee is once again looking for a new head football coach after firing head coach Jeremy Pruitt Monday along with nine other football staffers for what the university chancellor called a “serious violation of NCAA rules.”
The Volunteers went 3-7 last season. Pruitt’s firing means Tennessee will be looking for its fifth different coach since the Vols last won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title in 2007.
UT chancellor Donde Plowman and university president Randy Boyd accused coach Jeremy Pruitt of conduct that would lead to a “level 1” violation of NCAA rule in a termination letter Monday.
Two assistants and seven members of the recruiting and support staff were also fired.
Among those fired Monday were inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer and outside linebackers coach 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.
“While the investigation is continuing the information provided to us indicates serious violations of NCAA rules,” Plowman said. “They occurred. These serious infractions warrant immediate action.”
According to the chancellor, an investigation into Pruitt and the football program began back in November when a “credible source” verbally reported NCAA violations. Less than a month later, the university informed the SEC and NCAA about the allegations, leading to an official NCAA investigation.
Just last week, Pruitt was interviewed by NCAA enforcement staff and attorneys retained by the university. The next day, that team of lawyers met with university leaders.
“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.”
Plowman said she did not know how many violations or other specifics. NCAA investigators opened a case in December and became more actively involved within the past 10 days.
The allegations against Pruitt come less than four months after UT gave Pruitt a contract extension through the 2025 season, despite a career 16-19 record (10-16 SEC) in three seasons in Knoxville.
Pruitt’s contract calls for about over $12.6 million dollars and Plowman said Tennessee would not pay any of it because they terminated Pruitt “for cause.”
Attorney Michael Lyons of Lyons & Simmons in Dallas issued a statement Monday night saying Pruitt was “extremely disappointed.” Lyons said Pruitt didn’t have a chance to respond and that his termination letter was leaked immediately as part of “an orchestrated effort to renege” on Pruitt’s contract.
“The timing of the university’s actions and decision appear 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,” Lyons said in the statement.
“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.”
Kevin Steele, hired last week as a defensive assistant coach, will be the acting coach. Plowman and Fulmer planned to meet with the football team later Monday. The next national signing day is Feb. 3.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WATE contributed to this report.