Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt has been fired following the completion of a UT internal investigation into alleged recruiting violations and extra benefits. He was interviewed Thursday for 6-8 hours. He was 16-19 in 3 years at Tennessee.
Tennessee owes Pruitt about $12.6 million on his contract. It is unclear if UT and Pruitt have reached a negotiated settlement on the money he is owed. UT hired a law firm, led by Michael Glazier, on Nov. 19 to help with the internal investigation.
Also, Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer has agreed to retire pending the hiring of his replacement.
Tennessee officials have not discussed details of the probe, other than to acknowledge it is on-going.
While reports surfaced that Pruitt would be unable to hire an assistants or extend of current contracts of assistants, Pruitt and UT did hire former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele as a defensive assistant last week at $450,000 per year for two years. He is owed $5.2 million over two years by Auburn.
Steele was the only coach Pruitt was allowed to hire, sources said, so that Steele could be a bridge for the football program in case Pruitt were terminated.
Pruitt did not hire a defensive line or offensive line coach, an indication there was a “freeze’’ on hiring those positions.
Pruitt did hire an assistant and strength coach (Rhett Brooks) to replace Mike Farrell, who left in November. Brooks is an at-large employee, which might have enabled Pruitt to hire Brooks.
While Pruitt has continued to operate as UT’s head coach – he has visited current players Quavaris Crouch and Henry To’o To’o and talked to Austin Pope on Sunday morning – he had a staff meeting Monday morning with business as usual.
News of the UT compliance investigation broke Dec. 19 – the day UT played its last game of the reason season, against Texas A&M.
With Pruitt gone, where does Tennessee turn?
Steele is likely to be named the interim head coach. He could eventually have the “interim’’ tag removed.
Other possible candidates are Billy Napier at Louisiana-Lafayette, Jamey Chadwell at Coastal Carolina or Hugh Freeze at Liberty, although multiple sources have told me UT would not hire a coach who had a history of NCAA violations – which Freeze had at Ole Miss.