This story has been edited to reflect the reports that say Phillip Fulmer will retire.
Tennessee has fired head football coach Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons in charge of the program according to a report from Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. In addition, Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer’s will retire according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The Sentinel reported that 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 by compliance into the program and a disappointing 3-7 season. It marked the seventh loss in 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.
Multiple reports began to trickle out during Tennessee’s final game of the season against A&M that the program was under investigation. The reports stated that UT compliance department officials have interviewed current players, recruits, assistant coaches, student volunteers and other athletics department officials involved in football recruiting.
The alleged violations involve current Tennessee players along with recruits. There are multiple assistant coaches, staffers and players who have been questioned as part of the investigation. One report specifically named inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer.
Pruitt was 16-19 overall in his three years as Tennessee’s head coach. The Vols were 10-16 in SEC games under Pruitt.
Tennessee hired Pruitt after two seasons as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt replaced Butch Jones following Jones’ firing towards the of the 2017 season. It was the first head coaching job for Pruitt after spending 11 seasons as an assistant coach in various roles at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia.
The Vols went 5-7 in year one under Pruitt. They secured two key wins during the 2018 season when they upset No. 21 Auburn on the road and defeated No. 11 Kentucky at home. Pruitt was named the National Coach of the Week by the Dodd Trophy following the 24-7 win over the Wildcats, while Tennessee’s 30-24 win over the Tigers was UT’s first upset victory over a ranked team on the road in 12 years.
Tennessee finished the 2019 season with six-straight wins after beginning the season 1-4 with embarrassing losses to Georgia State, BYU, Florida and Georgia. Year No. 2 under Pruitt finished with a dramatic 23-22 win over Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
It felt like the Vols were headed in the right direction under Pruitt entering this season. Pruitt’s program saw quite a bit of regression over the course of the 10-game SEC schedule, however. His defense finished ranked 64th nationally in total defense, and eighth in the conference. The offense was even worse, finishing 104th in total offense and 12th in the SEC.