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Vols to fire Pruitt after internal investigation

Tennessee has informed head football coach Jeremy Pruitt that he will be fired after a week-long investigation into possible program recruitment violations.

In a letter of intent to end the letter sent to Pruitt by Tennessee officials on Monday, the university concluded that “the conduct of at least two assistant coaches and several recruiting staff are likely to result in an NCAA Level I and determination / or will result in Level II violations of one or more applicable sports rules. The University has also concluded that these likely outcomes are due to either your substantial neglect or a lack of adequate preventive compliance measures. “

A copy of the letter was received from ESPN. It is said that Pruitt will be suspended for payment and the university intends to terminate his contract at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The letter states that UT has concluded that the NCAA “is likely to find that you have failed to foster an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and / or monitor the activities of coaches and staff, who report directly or indirectly to you and will find out. ” You are responsible for a Level I or II Violation. “

“Your failure to foster and maintain an atmosphere of compliance and monitor the activities of the trainers and staff reporting directly or indirectly to you has led to the current NCAA investigation and brings with it and likely will continue to be the university include.” considerable public disdain, embarrassment, contempt, scandal and / or ridicule, “said the intention to end the letter signed by UT Chancellor Donde Plowman and Sports Director Phillip Fulmer.

The school said in a statement that, in addition to Pruitt, it also issued letters of resignation to assistant coaches Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton, four members of the on-campus soccer recruiting staff, the director and assistant director of soccer players’ staff, and a soccer analyst / quality control Coach.

“What is so worrying, as the scope of these actions shows, is the number of violations and people involved and their efforts to hide their activities from our compliance staff and sports department heads,” Plowman said in the statement. “Despite a strong compliance culture in our sports department, we need to find ways to further strengthen our processes. We deeply regret the impact this can have on our many student athletes, especially the vast majority of our football players who were not involved in this matter at all. “

In addition, Fulmer, a Hall of Fame trainer, plans to retire after leading the sports department for more than three years. Plowman said Fulmer’s resignation was independent of the investigation and had nothing to do with it.

The volunteers reached out to Fulmer after removing John Currie from the AD role in December 2017. Fulmer coached the volunteers from 1992 to 2008, going anywhere from 152 to 52 in total, and leading Tennessee to the national title in 1998. He served as a special advisor on community, athletics, and university relations before assuming AD.

Pruitt’s exit comes immediately after Tennessee launched an internal investigation into alleged recruiting errors, which ESPN sources said was based in part on additional benefits for soccer recruits during unofficial visits. Pruitt and his lawyers met with investigators for several hours on Thursday. This meeting was monitored by NCAA officials through Zoom. At least one other assistant, Niedermeyer, had a long meeting with investigators on Wednesday, at which his lawyers were also present and virtually monitored the NCAA officials.

The university announced last month that it had enlisted the services of attorneys Michael Glazier and Kyle Skillman at the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm to help review the university’s statements on the “regulatory issues we are facing.” were made aware “. “” Bond, Schoeneck & King has a Kansas City office devoted to college sports and run by Glazier, a former NCAA investigator who now serves as an advisor to schools facing NCAA compliance issues . Glazier and his colleagues have been on the Tennessee campus since November interviewing assistant coaches, players, and recruiting staff.

Sources told ESPN that Tennessee’s recruitment of Amarius Mims, the No. 3 offensive device and No. 19 overall player in the ESPN 300 2021 rankings, is part of the investigation. Mims signed With Georgia.

The Vols ended the previous season 3-7 and lost seven of their last eight games. All seven losses were in double digits.

Tennessee plans to hire a search firm to find Fulmer’s replacement as sporting director, and the new AD will then lead the search for a head coach.

Last week, Tennessee hired former employees Auburn Defense Coordinator Kevin Steele as Defense Assistant. A former head coach at BaylorSteele is expected to serve as the interim coach until a successor is hired, and sources told ESPN that he would be considered for the permanent position as well. Steele played in Tennessee and began his coaching careers in Knoxville, both under the late Johnny Majors. Steele was a finalist for the job as head coach in Tennessee when Pruitt was hired.

Just before the 2020 season, Tennessee announced that it had rewarded Pruitt with an extension and raise, and that it had taken over his contract through the 2025 season. Pruitt should earn $ 4.2 million annually starting in 2021. Fulmer said at the time that the extension was nearing completion before the coronavirus pandemic outbreak and that Pruitt did not accept the increase in the first year of the new deal.

Under the terms of Pruitt’s contract, he would be owed just over $ 12 million, or 60% of the remaining contract money, if he were fired for no reason. If Pruitt is fired for good cause, his contract states: “He is not entitled to any further salary, compensation, benefits, requirements or other sports-related income or benefits that result from the position of the coach as head coach of the university.”

Regarding the reasons for which the University of Pruitt could dismiss Pruitt for an important reason according to its contract: “Conduct or omission (s) of the coach that constitute a violation of one or more applicable sports rules of level I or II, or conduct or omission (s ) By coach likely to result in an NCAA determination of a Level I or II violation of one or more applicable sporting rules; failure to report a rule violation to the athletics director or compliance staff; failure to create an atmosphere of compliance promote and maintain and the failure to monitor all employees reporting directly and indirectly to him. “

Pruitt was due to receive a $ 200,000 bonus on February 15th.

Pruitt was 16-19 in Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. The Vols were 2-11 against AP-ranked opponents under Pruitt, who was the head coach in his first stint. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban.

The direction of Tennessee’s program quickly changed under Pruitt, who led the Vols to six straight wins to end the 2019 season, including one win Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Tennessee ran its winning streak to eight in a row with two wins to open the 2020 season. But from that point on, the only victory for the Vols was without a win Vanderbilt.

In particular, Tennessee fought for the quarterback position, playing four different quarterbacks, completing 14 touchdown passes and nine interceptions last season. The Vols were last in the SEC and 119th nationwide in third-down conversions (30.2%). They also had their defensive problems, ranking 105th nationwide in games of 10 yards or more (160).

Pruitt’s successor will be Tennessee’s sixth head coach, tracing back to Fulmer, who was fired at the end of the 2008 season. On December 1, 2017, Fulmer took over the management of sports director in Tennessee.

Pruitt’s exit marks the fourth head coach change this season in the SEC, along with Gus Malzahn in Auburn, Derek Mason in Vanderbilt and Will Muschamp in Auburn South carolina.

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