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Pruitt, Tennessee Fire At Each Other Over Termination

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and his lawyer Michael Lyons have threatened Tennessee with a lawsuit if the two sides can’t reach a settlement on the coach’s termination from the University in January.

The University of Tennessee fired Pruitt with cause due to NCAA violations after the former Alabama defensive coordinator posted a 16-19 record in three seasons in Knoxville.

Tennessee owed Pruitt, who’s now a defensive analyst for the New York Giants, $13 million if fired without cause on Jan. 18. Now, the coach is threatening a lawsuit if a settlement can’t be reached by Oct. 29

“If coach Pruitt is forced to file a lawsuit it is inevitable that this information will become public, embarrass UT and those associated with it, including its largest donors, and result in debilitating NCAA sanctions,” Pruitt’s lawyer Lyons wrote in a letter obtained by USA Today Network’s Blake Toppmeyer.

Lyons alleges that his team has discovered recruiting violations by both prior Tennessee football staffs and other UT sports teams.

In the letter sent by Lyons to Tennessee, the lawyer requests the preservation of documents from former Tennessee director of athletics Phillip Fulmer, chancellor Donde Plowman, basketball coach Rick Barnes, former Vol point guard and current AAU program director Bobby Maze, former head football coach Butch Jones, former linebacker coach Tommy Thigpen, former and current defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, former assistant athletic director Carmen Tegano and booster Larry Pratt.

In a letter in response to Lyons, University general counsel Ryan Stinnett “emphatically denies these allegations” and says the University has no plans of settling with Pruitt. Stinnett told Lyons “your letter contains no denials of your client’s actions” and that the University didn’t plan on backing down.

That has been Tennessee’s message since terminating Pruitt and hiring Josh Heupel in January.

“What is so disturbing is demonstrated by the scope of these employment actions we are announcing today is the number of violations and the number of people involved and their efforts to conceal their activities from our compliance staff and the leadership within the athletic department,” Plowman said following Pruitt’s termination.

Tennessee has spent just over $943,464 on lawyers investigating Pruitt’s football program and preparing for a lawsuit since firing the coach in January.

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes responded to the implications of Lyons’ letter Tuesday night.

“I’m really disappointed that Jeremy would throw people’s names around that he knows did nothing but support him the entire time he was here and make these unsubstantiated claims,” Barnes told ESPN. “I would invite the NCAA to come in any day of the week and investigate our program. I have too much respect for our players, our school and our administration for somebody to ever think we were not doing things right here and make such ridiculous statements.

“Jeremy is not here because of the decisions he made and the way he led his program. Here’s what I know: Our university has done everything it possibly can in working with the NCAA to clean up the mess he left behind and bring this to closure.”

Under Barnes’ guidance, Tennessee basketball has gone through its best recruiting stretch in program history, signing five five-stars in the last three cycles. Two of those players— Jaden Springer and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield— played for Maze’s AAU program.

The seventh year Tennessee head coach has no history with NCAA violations in his time in Knoxville or his 35-year head coaching career.

With 10 days until the set deadline for a settlement, Pruitt and Tennessee are both postering for stronger positioning in said settlement. Tennessee’s willingness— or unwillingness— to compromise in the next 10 days will show what means they will go to fight Lyons and Pruitt’s claims.

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