Dan Fleser: The Fallout From UT's Demolition Monday

Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - by Dan Fleser

Some day-after thoughts following demolition Monday, when Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine others were fired for cause for alleged recruiting violations within the program. Athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who hired Pruitt, announced his intention to retire.

The sweeping changes cleared the way for a new era. Or they set the stage for Tennessee football history to continue repeating itself.

Pruitt: To probably nobody's surprise, Pruitt has hired lawyer Michael Lyons of the Dallas-based trial firm Lyons & Simmons to represent his interests and defend his reputation after being fired.
In a statement released to reporters, Lyons said, “We believe the decision to be the culmination of an orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises made to Coach Pruitt upon his hiring in 2017 and reiterated less than five months ago.”

The statement’s final paragraph, in part, said, “The timing of the University’s actions and decision appear to be preordained and more about financial convenience and expediency than a fair and complete factual determination by the University.”

Along with a $12.6 million buyout, Pruitt’s coaching future is at stake. He’s not going away without a fight.

Fulmer: The effusive praise for the outgoing AD, along with some awkward moments during Monday’s press conference, suggest there was more to Fulmer’s decision than was expressed.

When asked how Pruitt’s tenure will be remembered, Fulmer’s response was cringe-worthy: “Certainly the recruiting has been good.”

The hiring of Fulmer to replace ousted AD John Currie in the midst of the previous coaching search likely made Monday’s events possible. That search was beyond salvageable by then and ultimately became Fulmer’s responsibility. Pruitt was his guy and he was over his head as a first-time head coach, especially in this high-stakes conference.

Athletic director: The fans base is more preoccupied with who the next football coach will be. They ought to be more concerned with the AD hire.

There’s a correlation between UT’s track record for hiring football coaches and the athletic directors who made the hires. The University needs to take whatever time is necessary and ignore the input of boosters in making its choice. 

Donde Plowman: The chancellor’s presence offers reason for hope. I don’t know how much hope but some.

Her candor on Monday regarding the alleged recruiting violations unearthed by UT’s internal investigation was rather stunning.

“What is so disturbing, as demonstrated by these employment actions we are announcing today, is the number of violations and the number of people involved and their efforts to conceal their activities from our compliance staff and from leadership within the athletic department,” she said.

In these situations, universities typically aren’t so forthcoming. Instead, they circle the wagons and try to mitigate the circumstances.

Plowman’s words and her bearing indicated that she goes about things differently. Given UT’s track record on these matters, the Vols desperately need something different.

* * *
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 danfleser3@gmail.com.

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