Tennessee fired head football coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday afternoon after three seasons in charge of the program. In addition, UT announced that Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer’s will retire once Pruitt’s successor has been named.
Pruitt was fired with cause for alleged NCAA violations under his watch, meaning Pruitt’s buyout of $12.8 million will not be paid. The buyout for Pruitt and his staff as a whole is $18.6 million. The 46-year-old signed a contract extension just before the season began that extended his contract through the 2025 season. Pruitt’s salary was set to increase to $4.2 million beginning in 2021.
The decision comes on the heels of an investigation into the program and a disappointing 3-7 season. Tennessee lost seven of its eight games after beginning the season 2-0. Each loss this season was by double-digits and UT lost five home games by an average of 22 points.
Pruitt’s lawyer, Michael Lyons of Dallas-based trail firm Lyons & Simmons, issued a statement on his behalf regarding Monday’s events. Here’s the complete statement:
“This afternoon, Coach Pruitt learned that Tennessee was terminating his employment for cause. He is extremely disappointed with the decision, the public announcement of which was made prior to any substantive opportunity to respond before the appropriate decision makers. We believe the decision to be the culmination of an orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises made to Coach Pruitt upon his hiring in 2017 and reiterated less than five months ago.
“While the limited portions of the University’s self-initiated investigation shared with Coach Pruitt provide some evidence of violations committed by off-field staff, Chancellor Donde Plowman personally confirmed during an in-person meeting with Coach Pruitt this morning that: (1) the University’s investigation had yet to have been completed; (2) the Chancellor had not yet read Coach Pruitt’s NCAA interview transcript; and (3) there was no evidence that Coach Pruitt was either actively involved in any alleged violations or knew they were occurring. She further commented to Coach Pruitt that no employment decision had been made. Less than three hours later, however, Coach Pruitt was e-mailed a five-page, single-spaced letter of termination – the contents of which were immediately leaked to the public.
“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.
“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.
“Despite the apparent outcome-oriented nature of the investigation and the absence of any reliable evidence suggesting any preventable failure by Coach Pruitt in the oversight of his program, Coach Pruitt and his family are thankful for and will always cherish their time with the University. In addition to having made lifelong friends in Knoxville, Coach Pruitt is most thankful for and appreciative of the outstanding young men he was able to coach and mentor. He wishes those student-athletes and the remarkable fans that support them nothing but success.”