Jeremy Pruitt's lawyer says firing was 'orchestrated effort' by Tennessee
Tennessee's firing of football coach Jeremy Pruitt appeared to be an "orchestrated effort" focused on "financial convenience and expediency" over fairness, Pruitt's lawyer, Michael Lyons, said in a statement to Knox News on Monday night.
Pruitt hired Lyons and the firm Lyons & Simmons after he was fired for cause by Tennessee earlier Monday following the findings of an internal investigation.
"He is extremely disappointed with the decision, the public announcement of which was made prior to any substantive opportunity to respond before the appropriate decision makers," Lyons said in a statement made on Pruitt's behalf. "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."
Lyons indicated he and Pruitt are ready to defend "any allegation that he has engaged in any NCAA wrongdoing, as well as examining the University’s intent to disparage and destroy Coach Pruitt’s reputation in an effort to avoid paying his contractual liquidated damages."
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman confirmed a Knox News report Monday that the firing was for cause. She said that meant "no buyout." Pruitt's contract called for a $12.6 million buyout if he was not fired for cause.
"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," Lyons said. "Moreover, it seems clear the recent leaks to the press are indicative of an interest to steer the narrative in a way that is desirable to the University to justify a decision likely made weeks ago."
Plowman and Pruitt had an in-person meeting Monday, Lyons said. According to Lyons, Plowman confirmed to Pruitt that "no employment decision had been made" during that meeting. Pruitt received a five-page, single-spaced letter of termination later Monday.
The termination letter, which was obtained by Knox News, outlined that the investigation showed evidence of multiple Level I and Level II NCAA recruiting rules violations under his watch. The letter cited six fire-for-cause provisions violated by Pruitt.
Lyons alleged that Plowman told Pruitt in their meeting that the investigation had to be completed, she had not read Pruitt's NCAA interview transcript and "there was no evidence that Coach Pruitt was either actively involved in any alleged violations or knew they were occurring."
Plowman said that, on Nov. 13, her office received a credible verbal allegation of potential NCAA violations occurring within the football program, and UT’s general counsel began an investigation. The university retained lawyers Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman to assist with the investigation. The Kansas-based lawyers are considered experts at representing universities during college athletics investigations.
Plowman and president Randy Boyd cited “a significant number of serious NCAA rules violations” as the reason for the terminations of Pruitt and nine other football staff members.
Seven support staff members, including four recruiting staffers, were fired.
Additionally, athletics director Phillip Fulmer will retire after UT hires an AD to replace him. Fulmer wants his successor to choose the next football coach. Fulmer made the decision to step down, and his departure is not tied to the investigation.
"Despite the apparent outcome-oriented nature of the investigation and the absence of any reliable evidence suggesting any preventable failure by Coach Pruitt in the oversight of his program, Coach Pruitt and his family are thankful for and will always cherish their time with the University," Lyons said. "In addition to having made lifelong friends in Knoxville, Coach Pruitt is most thankful for and appreciative of the outstanding young men he was able to coach and mentor. He wishes those student-athletes and the remarkable fans that support them nothing but success."
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.