It was an eventful Monday afternoon on Rocky Top for Tennessee’s athletic department. The University of Tennessee fired Jeremy Pruitt with cause following an investigation that found serious NCAA violations. It also announced that Phillip Fulmer would be retiring once his successor is found.
Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes had his own set of problems the following evening on Tuesday night when his sixth-ranked basketball team was embarrassed by the Florida Gators 75-49 in Gainesville. Despite the frustration of the loss, Barnes still had thoughts on the situation with Fulmer, Pruitt and the football program.
“I really feel for our football staff because there’s a lot of really nice people there that obviously it is very tough on families — not just one family, but many families,” Barnes said. “I have unbelievable respect for Phillip Fulmer. He is a Tennessee legend. I met him my first year here. We do a Bible study that we share. There is not a person that I have ever come in contact with that loves this university more than him. He wanted to come in and, I will tell you, he did a job I think of what he was asked to do. He was asked to calm things, to bring warmth to the athletic department and get people re-engaged. I think what he did with the entire athletic department, he has done that.
“I am going to miss coach. We are friends and that has been one of the great blessings coming here. He is a true Tennessee legend. I do want people to know that he worked really hard to try to get things calmed down and back in place. I do think he has done that as an athletic department.”
Tennessee’s dysfunction is well-documented over the last decade. Despite the dysfunction, Barnes has complete confidence in University President Randy Boyd and Chancellor Donde Plowman.
“The leadership at this university is, I think, the best,” Barnes said. “Having a chance to have Donde (Plowman) and Randy (Boyd), to hear them sit there and talk like that, there are so many people that would love to have a chance to be part of this great university. I am just blessed that I am. Going forward, there is no doubt it is going to get better. There are going to be great days ahead for us because of that. There’s too many people at this university that love it too much not to think that.
“The most important thing and I have said it from the time that I took this job, and I think that what they said yesterday is there is nothing more important than the integrity of this university. Nothing. It is one of the great universities in the country and it is going to get better. When you think of all those people that have come, not just athletes but students in general. We have so much to be proud of. I think that is what came from yesterday in terms of going forward, we are led by people that expect excellence in everything we do. The word integrity was thrown around and I do think integrity and truth are the most important things that we can do in our jobs and position. I am thankful for the leadership they have brought to us.”