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Talking through Tennessee’s Pruitt problem

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Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Since the Tennessee Volunteers football team embarked on a colossally bad — historically bad, in some respects — and woefully inept stretch of football in the 2020 season, many fans were clamoring to see head coach Jeremy Pruitt relieved of his duties. That decision never came down during the season, not that any of us expected it. Once the offseason came calling in Knoxville — amid accusations of program impropriety — some thought Pruitt would be gone before the New Year. As our Gameday friend Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast.”

Now, in what some might call a make or break offseason, Tennessee fans are still wondering what is to come of their sideline leader. But it appears we’ll have to continue to wait. While some fans were of the belief that Pruitt’s exit would’ve already happened by now, most writers were skeptical that the athletic department would opt to make such a move, if for no other reason than COVID-related budgetary constraints. In light of “serious investigations,” however, upper management’s hands may be tied.

Recently, the university brought in lawyers Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman to assist with the proceedings — an expensive hire, according to Know News. While nobody outside of those directly involved knows how truly serious these investigations are — reportedly involving coach Brian Niedermeyer and lineman Amarius Mims, according to David Ubben — the severity of the actual “crime” might not matter as much as the optics of the violation. Some might argue that, aside from losing, the athletic department and university would be looking for a reason to push out Pruitt. This investigation, which I would speculate will result in something, might be enough to go forth with a regime change.

At The Athletic, David Ubben suggests that Pruitt’s job could be lost regardless of investigatory outcome. While the athletic department might not part ways with Pruitt in 2021, the slow moving process of these largely undisclosed investigations could muddy up the waters even more moving forward as the team tries to rebound after a dismal 2020 campaign. With players leaving or de-committing, and with Pruitt unable to extend existing coaches or hire new ones, by the time spring practices kickoff, the Vols could be much farther behind than any of their peers. If that’s the case, it’s going to be another long season in Knoxville — one in which Pruitt is assuredly handed his walking papers.

Although the NCAA isn’t involved yet, and while the investigation remains internal for the time being, its hush-hush nature suggests that there’s something amiss within the program regarding the NCAA’s compliance rules. If those violations are a result of compensating players — a position which is increasingly gaining sympathy — we could see a variety of punishments either imposed by the NCAA or self-imposed, including bowl bans and the forfeiture of wins. Of course, I’m speculating at the severity of the nature of these potential infractions, as nothing much is being reported or disclosed on that front.

But as time ticks by — two months now since the news of investigations first broke — one thing is becoming clearer: Tennessee isn’t going to win very many games in 2021. While Pruitt might remain on the sideline this upcoming season, his tenure at Rocky Top is virtually assured to end at the conclusion of the year. Only time will tell how this all will play out, but right now, it doesn’t look promising.