By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer
Tennessee has parted ways with head football coach Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons.
The news was first reported by Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel followed with a report of UT firing Pruitt “with cause” – meaning the university would not have to pay his reported $12.8 million dollar buyout, if that’s the case.
USA Today and Volquest are also reporting former head coach and current Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer is retiring – though not in connection with the ongoing internal investigation into the Tennessee football program for alleged impermissible benefits.
Tennessee has yet to announce an official firing.
BREAKING NEWS: 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.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) January 18, 2021
Jeremy Pruitt ends his Vol tenure with a combined record of 16-19 in three seasons with one bowl appearance – a victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl, January 2020. In 2018, the Vols finished 5-7 in Pruitt’s first season, followed by an 8-5 record in year two.
2020 started off well for the Vols, 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Missouri. At that point, Tennessee had one of the longest winning streaks in the country at eight games. But it all went downhill from there as Tennessee lost seven of its final eight games to finish the COVID-shortened campaign with a 3-7 record.
In three seasons at the helm, Pruitt lost 16 games by double-digits and managed only two ranked wins – both coming in the 2019 season.
Prior to the season-finale against Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium on December 19, reports surfaced that the program was under internal investigation for impermissible recruiting violations. It was later known that the university hired an outside law firm – consisting of Michael Glazier – to investigate the program.
Amidst a series of questions and uncertainty, Pruitt continued to work over the Holidays – hiring former Auburn defensive coordinator and former Vol Kevin Steele to his defensive staff. Steele is now believed to be the interim head coach.
Pruitt was able to hold on to two starters – Austin Pope and Shawn Shamburger – who initially entered the transfer portal after the season. He brought in veteran Auburn edge rusher Big Cat Bryant from the portal – as well as former Virginia Tech starting quarterback Hendon Hooker.
And on the last days of his employment, Pruitt and some key staff members flew across country to try and keep star linebacker Henry To’o To’o from entering the portal.
Nonetheless, Pruitt was fired three days later.
The next couple of days on Rocky Top will be interesting (as if they aren’t already) as chancellor Donde Plowman and President Randy Boyd decipher a plan of action, now that AD Phillip Fulmer is reportedly returning.
Fulmer, of course, captured the 1998 national championship as Vols coach. He was later fired in 2007 after a storied tenure only to return as AD amid another chaotic coaching search in 2017 – that led to his hiring of Jeremy Pruitt and the firing of former AD John Currie.
Fulmer is reportedly staying on until his replacement is hired – but he will not be making the next football hire.
Early enrollees for the Class of 2021 have been arriving on campus all weekend. Classes are set to start on Wednesday. Tennessee has no athletics director nor a head football coach and still needs to fill four spots in the class with National Signing Day less than a month away.
Buckle up. It’s here again.