Before he said a word about Tennessee’s football game at Auburn on Saturday, Jeremy Pruitt referenced a story that appeared in last Friday’s Knoxville News Sentinel regarding eight assistants who had declined to take pay cuts.
The Vols’ head coach had no quarrel with the facts. Instead, he suggested that the story didn’t constitute the final word on the matter.
“I know the men that are in this building,” Pruitt said.
“I know where their hearts are at. I also know the circumstances around decision-making and what they’re looking for and where they’re going in the future. So all I can say is this: the final chapter has not been written on that.”
Tennessee’s athletic department is facing a financial shortfall of approximately $40 million because of the COVID-19 pandemic. UT instituted last month department-wide, tiered pay cuts. But football coaches are under contract and must agree to cuts. Assistant head coach Tee Martin and running backs coach Jay Graham, who are university alums, agreed to the pay cuts. The remaining eight staffers – Jim Chaney, Derrick Ansley, Chris Weinke, Brian Niedermeyer, Will Friend, Shelton Felton, Joe Osovet and A.J. Artis – did not, per the News Sentinel report. Their decisions reduced the department’s savings from $1.6 million to $1.3 million.
Pruitt was not asked to take a pay cut. He declined a $400,000 raise this year as part of a two-year contract extension that was announced in September. Athletic director Phillip Fulmer announced in August that he intended to take a 15 percent cut in his $900,000 annual salary.
Pruitt described the situation with the eight staffers who declined cuts as being “fluid” and added, “They will continue to look and meet with our administration to see what they can do to help supplement the university.”
Pruitt indicated that he and his wife had agreed to supplement every football staff member’s pay with a one-time gift but that the gesture first would require NCAA clearance. UT men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes committed a violation in 2017 by paying an assistant out of his own pocket to balance his pay with another assistant.
“There will be opportunities to make adjustments as we move on,” Pruitt said.
On other matters:
-Pruitt said quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who was sidelined during the 24-13 loss at Arkansas on Nov. 7 because of concussion protocol, practiced on Sunday. The coach also noted that the other QBs had a lot of reps during the previous three practices.
“It seems to be a little more confidence offensively, especially with our younger guys having a better idea of how to execute at a higher level,” Pruitt said.
-Defensive back Shawn Shamburger will not return this season because of issues related to academics, Pruitt said.
“This has been a very unusual circumstance for this whole deal,” Pruitt said. “You try to do school from home, not being in-person when you talk about tutors and things like that. He’s going to focus on academics the rest of this semester.”
-Saturday’s kickoff will be 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.