Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt walks during the Vol Walk ahead of a game between Tennessee and Mississippi State in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, October 12, 2019.


NCAA: Former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt gave cash to recruits

Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and his wife were among a group of people who gave almost $60,000 in impermissible cash or gifts to recruits and their families, according to a notice of allegations filed against the program by the NCAA.

The 51-page document was obtained by Sports Illustrated, which shared the allegations on Friday. The NCAA alleges the Pruitts and staff members gave money and gifts to players after he was named Volunteers coach in December 2017, replacing Butch Jones. Pruitt was fired in January 2021 for cause.

According to Sports Illustrated, Pruitt and his staff allegedly hosted at least six prospects and their families on nine weekend unofficial periods during the lengthy recruiting dead period caused by the pandemic. During that time, they reportedly provided the recruits with lodging, food, transportation and assorted household items worth $12,000.

The report said Pruitt also made separate payments of $3,000 and $6,000 to mothers of recruits to pay for medical bills and a down payment on a car, respectively

In addition, Casey Pruitt, the coach’s wife, allegedly gave $13,000 in cash to unspecified recruits and their families, Sports Illustrated reported.

In all, there are 18 infractions — all Level I, the most serious — listed in the report. The reported violations allegedly were committed by the Pruitts; assistant coaches Derrick Ansley, Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer; recruiting staff members Drew Hughes, Bethany Gunn and Chantryce Boone; and an unnamed student assistant.

None of them currently are employed by Tennessee.

Knox News said the NCAA gave Tennessee credit for self-reporting the violations and for “exemplary cooperation” as the NCAA investigated. The NCAA did not cite the university for a lack of institutional control, meaning it likely will face lesser punishment, per the Knox News report.

Tennessee already stripped itself of 12 scholarships last season.

“Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, requisite step in this process — a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions,” Tennessee athletic director Danny White said in a statement Friday, per Sports illustrated. “This moves us one step closer to a final resolution. … As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”

The Volunteers were 16-19 in Pruitt’s tenure. He was replaced by Josh Heupel, who led Tennessee to a 7-6 record in his first season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 3, 2020; Knoxville, TN, USA;   Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt is seen during the third quarter of a game between Tennessee and Missouri at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Mandatory Credit:  Calvin Mattheis-USA TODAY NETWORK

Reports: Tennessee fires coach Jeremy Pruitt

Tennessee fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt, according to multiple reports Monday.

His dismissal comes amid an investigation into potential recruiting violations. Earlier this month, Tennessee put hiring on hold in the program and brought in prominent outside attorneys Michael Glazier and Kyle Skillman to assist in the investigation about alleged violations, including improper benefits.

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer also will retire when his replacement is hired, according to the reports. Fulmer was the football coach from 1993 to 2008 and led the Volunteers to a 13-0 record and their most recent national championship in 1998.

Fulmer hired Pruitt, who was the defensive coordinator at Alabama, in 2017. In three seasons under Pruitt, the Volunteers were 16-19, including 3-7 in 2020. He replaced Butch Jones

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Pruitt was fired for cause, which would allow Tennessee to not pay his buyout or settle on a lesser amount. The school gave Pruitt a contract extension and raise in September that increased his average annual salary to $4.2 million and kept him with the Volunteers through the 2025 season, saying at the time that the program had made “excellent progress” under Pruitt.

The newspaper said Pruitt is owed a buyout of about $12.8 million. Firing his staff would cost an additional $6.2 million.

The investigation into the program began in November, with one of the focuses being the recruitment of Amarius Mims, a five-star tackle in the Class of 2021 who signed with Georgia, ESPN reported earlier this month. The outlet also said that tailback Eric Gray didn’t play in the Volunteers’ season finale against Texas A&M because of the investigation.

Gray led the team with 772 rushing yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 23, 2019; Columbia, MO, USA; A general view of a Tennessee Volunteers helmet during the second half against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Low on players, Tennessee calls off scrimmage

Tennessee called off plans to hold a scrimmage Saturday because 44 players were unavailable because of either a positive COVID-19 test, contact with somebody who tested positive, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

According to head coach Jeremy Pruitt, as many as eight players have tested positive for COVID-19. There are at least 24 more who are in quarantine because of contact-tracing protocol. A handful of players are out because of injury.

“I think our guys are trying to do the right thing,” Pruitt said, according to the News Sentinel. “They’re aware of it. You know, if somebody that you live with (tests positive), you’re in quarantine. In our county, that’s the way it is. It might be like that everywhere. We’ve had some of that.

“But I don’t think it’s something to where our players are not being responsible. I definitely don’t think that.”

Instead of putting his team through a game-like setting, Pruitt elected to hold a traditional practice with his remaining players. Reports indicated the Volunteers were without 31 players on offense.

Under the original 2020 schedule, the Vols were expected to open the season at home Saturday against Charlotte. Under the new schedule, created after the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee is now scheduled to open its season Sept. 26 against South Carolina.

–Field Level Media