Former Tennessee football coach and director of athletics Phillip Fulmer fired back at Jeremy Pruitt and his lawyer, who implied Fulmer and Tennessee’s upper administration were involved in illegal recruiting actions.
“The days I interviewed each candidate for the head football coaching position at the University of Tennessee, including Jeremy Pruitt, I emphasized that you did not have to cheat to win at the University of Tennessee and that cheating would not be tolerated,” Fulmer told ESPN. “Jeremy has no one to blame but himself for his firing from UT. He had a great opportunity at a great university, and he simply screwed it up.”
Tennessee fired Jeremy Pruitt with cause on Jan. 18 following a month plus investigation into impermissible recruiting actions that UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman called “disturbing” and “wide spread.”
Since Tennessee fired Pruitt with cause, the Vols’ athletic department doesn’t owe the former head coach any of his $13 million buyout. Pruitt and his lawyer, Andrew Lyons, threatened Tennessee with a lawsuit if a settlement could not be reached by Oct. 29.
Fulmer— who hired Pruitt in December of 2017— resigned on Jan. 18 when Tennessee fired Pruitt with cause.
“Our next football coach needs to be on our sidelines for 10 years or more,” Fulmer said. “I’m confident that we’ll find that coach but also am confident that he will want and need to know who his athletic director is going to be for the duration.”
The facts tell another story, Fulmer will earn $1.35 million from the University in $37,500 monthly payments through December of 2023. Tennessee owed Fulmer $1.35 million if he was fired without cause.
Fulmer wasn’t the only one to strike back at Pruitt Tuesday, Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes did the same.
The letter from Lyons to Tennessee implies that Barnes and his staff have partaken in illegal recruiting violations in his seven years in Knoxville. Lyons wrote that “UT boosters have been and are involved in efforts to impermissibly recruit student athletes across multiple sports spanning multiple coaching regimes — some of which are still in place.”
Pruitt’s camp requested the preservation of documents for a plethora of people affiliated with Tennessee including Barnes and former Tennessee point guard and current AAU program manager Bobby Maze. Barnes responded in force Tuesday, boldly inviting the NCAA to investigate his program while lambasting Pruitt.
“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.”
Tennessee basketball has signed four players from Maze’s BMaze Elite program since Barnes became the Vols head coach. Forwards Drew Pember and Handje Tampa were low three-star recruits while shooting guard Jaden Springer and power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield were five-stars.
The Vols’ lone commit in the 2020 class, Knoxville point guard B.J. Edwards, also plays for BMaze Elite.
Barnes has had no run ins with the NCAA in his 35-year head coaching career that spans five different colleges.