Vols schedule news conference amid reports Pruitt fired

Tennessee has scheduled a Monday afternoon news conference to “address leadership changes related to its football program” amid reports coach Jeremy Pruitt has been fired after three seasons.

The university has been conducting an internal investigation since at least the middle of November into allegations of recruiting violations

Several news outlets have reported that Pruitt has been fired for cause after going 16-19 in three seasons.

Chancellor Donde Plowman, athletic director Phillip Fulmer and university President Randy Boyd will be at the news conference.

Firing Pruitt means Tennessee will be looking for its fourth different coach since the Vols last won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.

Pruitt went 3-7 in an SEC-only season with each loss by double digits. Tennessee had been picked to play in the Liberty Bowl but withdrew a day later after a batch of positive COVID-19 results, including Pruitt.

Pruitt ends a tenure that started after a tumultuous coaching search highlighted by Tennessee replacing John Currie as athletic director with Fulmer.

Tennessee retained attorneys Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman from Bond, Shoeneck & King from Kansas on Nov. 19 to assist the university’s investigation. The investigation has been seen as an attempt to avoid a buyout of approximately $12.8 million for Pruitt and about $18.6 million for the entire football staff.

Pruitt, a first-time head coach, guided Tennessee to an 8-5 record in his second season capped by a Gator Bowl win over Indiana. That earned Pruitt a contract extension and raise. The Volunteers opened the 2020 season ranked 16th and extended their winning streak to eight straight.

That’s when the season started falling apart.

Tennessee wound up matching the longest skid in program history losing six straight in the SEC-only season.

Pruitt fired his new defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh in October only months after hiring him, and the former defensive coordinator took over the defensive line. Pruitt also stuck with Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback despite the senior throwing two pick-6s in a loss to Kentucky.

He finally made a starting quarterback change after a fifth straight loss, going with freshman Harrison Bailey who became the 19th freshman to play this season. That was second-most in the SEC and tied for 12th nationally.

Pruitt played both Bailey and J.T. Shrout the final three games of the regular season, which wrapped up with a 34-13 loss to No. 5 Texas A&M. Before kickoff, a Knoxville radio station reported Tennessee and the NCAA were looking into recruiting issues. Leading rusher Eric Gray didn’t play and Pruitt said he was “unavailable.”

Pruitt was asked before the game at Vanderbilt where he saw the program and himself after three seasons.

“Myself, my family, the men who came here, we knew exactly what we were getting into,” Pruitt said. “We love the kids that we’re around, we love the administration, representing the University of Tennessee and we’re excited about an opportunity on Saturday.”

Tennessee fired Derek Dooley in November 2012 after a 15-21 record in three seasons, which included losing 14 of his final 15 SEC games. Butch Jones lasted nearly five seasons before being fired in November 2017 after losing for the fifth time in six games, and he had a 34-27 record, 14-24 in the SEC.

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