The Tennessee football program has fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt with cause, the university announced in a press conference. Tennessee will not pay Pruitt's buyout because he is being fired for alleged NCAA violations under his watch.
The program is also parting ways with assistants Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer along with four members of the on-campus football recruiting staff, the director and assistant director of football player personnel and a football analyst/quality control coach.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will act as interim head coach. Steele was hired last week and last served as Auburn's defensive coordinator.
Pruitt was given a contract extension through 2026 just four months ago and has been with the Volunteers since 2018. He has compiled a 16–19 record and won his first and only bowl game in the 2020 Gator Bowl against Indiana.
The press conference comes about a month after Tennessee announced that its football program was being investigated for alleged recruitment violations. The Volunteers, who finished 3–7, had the No. 10 ranked recruiting class of 2020, according to 247Sports and the No. 15 class of 2021.
During Monday's press conference, Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman said she expects NCAA Level I or Level II violations but doesn't know when the punishment or investigation will be concluded. Significant penalties are expected.
Plowman said "it was stunning" after Tennessee's internal investigation found a significant amount of NCAA violations and people involved within the program. Plowman did not specify names or numbers and also didn't give specifics on how many athletes' eligibility has been compromised.
Later in the day, Stadium's Brett McMurphy obtained a statement from Pruitt's attorney, Michael Lyons, where he made multiple allegations against Plowman and Tennessee. In the statement, Lyons says that Plowman met with Pruitt personally hours ahead of the press conference and assured him the university's investigation had yet to be completed and there was no evidence found that Pruitt was involved in the alleged violations or had any knowledge of them.
Lyons also goes on to say that the university was spinning the story in order to come out more favorably in the media and are financially motivated.
"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 damaged," Lyons said in the statement
Additionally, athletic director Phillip Fulmer will retire. Fulmer's retirement has nothing to do with the investigation and he had no knowledge of the violations, according to Plowman. Fulmer will not officially retire until after Tennessee finds an AD to replace him. Fulmer made the decision to retire on his own.
Despite the massive fallout amid recruiting violations, Fulmer says he will remember Pruitt's tenure fondly.
"I think we have definitely upgraded the program in general, relationships on campus, relationships period certainly the recruiting has been good," Fulmer said. "This is very unfortunate in the sense that we're going to have to work really hard to keep it from setting us back."
President Randy Boyd wanted to end the press conference by addressing all future Tennessee players and their families.
"If you put integrity first, this is the place you want to come to," Boyd said.