Dec 5, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt walks down the sideline during the first half against the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Tennessee football investigation pauses hiring

Officials at Tennessee have put hiring in the football program on hold as they investigate potential recruiting violations, ESPN reported Thursday.

The university said earlier this week that it was bringing in prominent outside attorneys Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman to assist in the investigation about alleged rules violations, including improper benefits.

And now, Tennessee isn’t extending the contracts of assistant football coaches and isn’t hiring for vacancies on the staff of coach Jeremy Pruitt, ESPN said. Assistant coaches in limbo include inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer and running backs coach Tee Martin.

The Volunteers also need to hire an offensive line coach after the departure of Will Friend and the firing of defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh during the 2020 season.

There is growing speculation that Pruitt could be ousted by Tennessee as the investigation ramps us. The Volunteers were 3-7 in 2020, and Pruitt has a 16-19 record in three seasons.

ESPN said the investigation began in November and that one of the focuses is the recruitment of Amarius Mims, a five-star tackle in the Class of 2021 who signed with Georgia. 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; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt leaves the field after the win over the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee coach Pruitt extended through 2025

Tennessee announced Thursday that it has extended the contract of coach Jeremy Pruitt two years through the 2025 season.

The school confirmed Pruitt received a $400,000 raise that increases his average annual salary to $4.2 million.

“He has made excellent progress entering just his third year and clearly realizes there is much work still to be done,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement. “This extension secures him to continue his efforts to return our program to a championship level and shows our commitment to him, his staff, this team and the future of the Tennessee Volunteers.”

Pruitt, 46, has a 13-12 record after two seasons with the Volunteers. No. 16 Tennessee opens this season on Saturday at South Carolina.

“My family and I are grateful for the unwavering commitment the University of Tennessee has made to us,” Pruitt said in a news release. “We have worked hard to build our program the right way in a short amount of time, and there is still much work to be done. It’s a privilege to coach and mentor the outstanding young men who represent the Tennessee Volunteers. We are excited about the future and will continue to build a program Tennessee fans can be proud of.”

The Volunteers went 5-7 in Pruitt’s first season and improved to 8-5 in 2019. They completed last season with a victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl.

Fulmer said the extension was nearly finalized earlier this year, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“But once the pandemic hit and we learned more and more about its potential impact on the department, Jeremy informed me that he preferred not to accept a raise for this year,” Fulmer said. “His focus quickly shifted to his players and supporting them through a period of interruption and uncertainty. His selflessness and concern for the greater good has been neat to observe through all of this.”

Before becoming coach at Tennessee, Pruitt was an assistant coach at Alabama (2010-12, 2016-17), Florida State (2013) and Georgia (2014-15). He was part of four national championship teams at Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012, 2017) and one at Florida State (2013).

Pruitt initially received a six-year, $22.8 million deal when hired in December of 2017.

–Field Level Media