Jeremy Pruitt is out in Tennessee. The university fired the third-year coach on Monday amidst an ongoing internal investigation into recruiting violations. Newly hired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as acting head coach.
The university and NCAA are investigating alleged recruiting violations within the program. Tennessee has also retained a pair of lawyers to aide in the investigation. Because he is being fired for cause, Tennessee will not pay his buyout clause, which was set for $12,880,000, according to the USA Today coaching salary database. His termination will be effective at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, according to a letter released by the school.
In its termination letter to Pruitt, Tennessee said, "Your failures are likely to lead to significant penalties to the university and has jeopardized the eligibility of our student athletes," in a document obtained by The Athletic.
Pruitt is not the only coach being fired by the university amid the investigation. Assistants Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer are also out. Niedermeyer was considered Tennessee's top recruiter and served as the inside linebackers coach. Felton served as outside linebackers coach. Additionally, four members of the on-campus recruiting staff, the director and assistant director of player personnel and a football analyst have also been fired.
Tennessee plans to hire a new athletic director first, a process that current AD Phil Fulmer will partake in as he bridges the gap to his successor, before hiring a new football coach. Fulmer has not been connected to any of the allegations.
News broke during Tennessee's final game of the regular season that the program is under investigation for alleged recruiting violations. Those violations, according to ESPN, stem from its pursuit of Class of 2021 offensive tackle Amarius Mims (who signed with Georgia) and current Vols running back Eric Gray, who was held out of the season-finale vs. the Aggies for undisclosed reasons.
"We take seriously our institutional commitment to NCAA compliance and are reviewing regulatory issues that have been brought to our attention," Tennessee director of news and information Tyra Haag said in a statement earlier this month. "As part of that process, we are currently working with attorneys Kyle Skillman and Michael Glazier with Bond, Schoeneck & King. We will provide additional information when it's appropriate."
Tennessee awarded Pruitt with a $400,000 raise and extension through the 2025 season following the end of the 2019 season.
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The NCAA issue wasn't the only issue that faced Pruitt on Rocky Top. He was 16-19 in three seasons on Rocky Top -- his first three seasons as a head coach anywhere. His tenure got off to a slow start in Year 1 with a 5-7 record. Things got worse to open the 2019 season when his team lost to Georgia State and BYU to open the season, but ended on a high note with six straight wins to close out the campaign.
That winning streak jumped to eight games after back-to-back wins over South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, to open the 2020 campaign. But blowout losses to Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama set off a six-game losing streak that marred Pruitt's third season with the program.
Pruitt also served as the defensive coordinator at Florida State and Georgia during his college coaching career.