The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on Monday announced significant personnel action in the football program resulting from an investigation into potential NCAA violations. In announcing the findings, Chancellor Donde Plowman said she is accepting the recommendation of Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer to move forward with terminating Head Football Coach Jeremy Pruitt, two assistant coaches, and seven others.
Chancellor Plowman also announced that she is accepting AD Fulmer’s recommendation that she immediately begin a search for a new athletic director, who will, in turn, hire the next football coach.
Fulmer had come out of retirement in 2017 to accept the position on a short-term basis. He plans to retire from athletics as soon as his replacement is installed.
“We are deeply disappointed in the activities that led to the action taken today regarding Coach Pruitt,” Chancellor Plowman said. “We are proud of the great history and traditions of our football program, and we will restore integrity and win at a championship level.”
She said, "It was stunning the number of people involved and the number of incidents, that was shocking."
The chancellor said, "We want to win, but we want to win with integrity."
She said all the incidents came up during the Pruitt tenure.
Chancellor Plowman said UT was advised that the NCAA infractions "are Level 1 and Level II."
She also said, "It is termination for cause. There is no buyout."
A football team meeting was to be held later on Monday afternoon with AD Fulmer among those addressing the team. Also to be present was Kevin Steele, who was recently hired as an assistant.
The university’s general counsel launched an internal inquiry in November after the university received a report from a credible source about possible NCAA violations within the football program. Based on the inquiry and potential allegations, the university engaged an outside law firm with experience in NCAA compliance, Bond, Schoeneck & King, to conduct an investigation and provide legal counsel.
The information provided in a briefing by counsel Friday afternoon indicates serious violations of NCAA rules occurred, the university said. The information also made clear that Coach Pruitt did not meet the university’s expectations for promoting an atmosphere of compliance and/or monitoring the activities of the coaches and staff who report to him, it was stated.
In addition to Pruitt, Chancellor Plowman and AD Fulmer issued termination letters to:
- assistant football coaches Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton;
- four members of the on-campus football recruiting staff;
- the director and assistant director of football player personnel; and
- a football analyst/quality control coach.
“What is so disturbing, as demonstrated by the scope of these actions, is the number of violations and people involved and their efforts to conceal their activities from our compliance staff and from the Athletic department’s leaders,” Chancellor Plowman noted. “Despite a strong compliance culture in our athletic department, we must look for ways to further strengthen our processes. We deeply regret the impact this may have on our many student-athletes, particularly the vast majority of our football players who have had no involvement in this matter at all.”
Chancellor Plowman emphasized that the investigation found no one involved in the allegations outside the football office. Calling him a “legend,” she thanked Fulmer for his long history of service to Tennessee and for providing a smooth transition to the next AD.
“Tennessee has been a big part of my life,” Fulmer said. “I was happy to step into the athletic director role when my university called. When I began this role three years ago, I told the administration I would stay for a few years to provide stability. Unfortunately, the unexpected need to hire a new head football coach has accelerated the succession plan the Chancellor and I have been discussing.
“Our next football coach needs to be on the sidelines for 10 years or more, and he will need to know who his athletic director will be for the duration. It only makes sense that I make this move now, so a new coach and a new athletic director can implement their vision together. My only desire is to do whatever it takes to give Tennessee the best opportunity to succeed.”
Fulmer added, “I want to express my gratitude to the many Vols fans who have been so supportive over the years. I know we’ve had some recent disappointments, but I am confident that the future of Tennessee football is bright.”
Chancellor Plowman said she recognizes the urgency of filling the two positions quickly. She also emphasized the importance of making the right hires and establishing a stable, winning program for the long term.
The search for a new director of athletics will begin immediately, and the university has engaged Parker Executive Search Firm to assist in the process. It is planned that once in place, the new athletic director will hire the new head football coach.
“We take pride in the history of this program and its tradition of winning the right way,” the chancellor said. “I know our students, alumni, and fans are eager to return to win an SEC Championship and write the next chapter of that history. We plan to move swiftly, and we feel a profound sense of responsibility to get this right. I am highly confident we will do so.”
UT officials said it plans to wrap up its investigation soon, but the NCAA is continuing its own probe.
The press conference can be found here.