The Jeremy Pruitt buyout situation bubbled back to the surface on Tuesday, as contents of a scathing and threatening letter to the University of Tennessee were revealed by USA Today. The threat included a settlement with Pruitt with an October 29th deadline, or the University would face a lawsuit that would “cripple athletic programs for years.”
Pruitt was fired for cause earlier this year, following an investigation into his staff’s recruiting. Of course for cause means no buyout, which totaled north of $12 million. The letter itself didn’t defend Pruitt, but rather pointed the finger at other potential infractions at the University.
Here’s a snippet of the threat.
“As we have previously discussed, a public lawsuit with its related discovery, document productions, depositions, disclosures, and court filings is a no-win situation for UT,” Lyons wrote in the letter, which was obtained by ESPN on Tuesday through an open records request. “Even if UT prevails on its claimed defenses to the contract, which is unlikely, the public revelations from the lawsuit will invariably embarrass UT, its athletics department and the administration. All of the parties to this dispute should try to avoid that.”
Pruitt’s lawyer wanted records on Phillip Fulmer, Butch Jones, Willie Martinez and Rick Barnes, among others. He added that his team had “done their homework” and were “not here to bluff.”
Tennessee strongly denied any wrongdoing with this response.
“Your letter contains no denials of your client’s actions,” Stinnett wrote. “Instead, you raise vague and unsupported allegations of other violations by the University and threaten to embarrass the University publicly by revealing these alleged violations.
“The University emphatically denies these allegations and will not be intimidated into settling with your client based on your unsupported assertions.”
Phillip Fulmer also gave a response, speaking to ESPN on the matter on Tuesday night.
“The days I interviewed each candidate for the head football coaching position at the University of Tennessee, including Jeremy Pruitt, I emphasized that you did not have to cheat to win at the University of Tennessee and that cheating would not be tolerated,” Fulmer told ESPN. “Jeremy has no one to blame but himself for his firing from UT. He had a great opportunity at a great university, and he simply screwed it up.”
Rick Barnes also spoke with ESPN, giving a similar response.
“I’m really disappointed that Jeremy would throw people’s names around that he knows did nothing but support him the entire time he was here and make these unsubstantiated claims,” he told ESPN. “I would invite the NCAA to come in any day of the week and investigate our program. I have too much respect for our players, our school and our administration for somebody to ever think we were not doing things right here and make such ridiculous statements.
“Jeremy is not here because of the decisions he made and the way he led his program. Here’s what I know: Our university has done everything it possibly can in working with the NCAA to clean up the mess he left behind and bring this to closure.”
An NCAA investigation into Pruitt’s recruiting is still ongoing. That front has been very quiet lately, as Josh Heupel and company await any sanctions that might come from it. In January, Chancellor Donde Plowman called the infractions that the University found “shocking” and “stunning.” She moved quickly, firing Pruitt and bringing in a totally new administration, hiring Danny White from UCF to replace Fulmer. Tennessee is hoping those swift actions keep any potential sanctions on the lighter side.
Pruitt’s lawyer has previously represented former Kansas Coach David Beatty, eventually getting him a settlement of $2.5 million, for what it’s worth. Tennessee is currently standing strong in their decision not to settle with Pruitt — now we’ll see if their tone changes after this letter. It doesn’t sound like it will.
Pruitt finished his time at Tennessee with a 16-19 mark, and is currently serving as a defensive analyst for the New York Giants.