KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman announced massive changes to the university's football program following an investigation into several NCAA rule violation allegations.
Chancellor Plowman announced the termination of Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt, and nine other coaches and staff as well as the retirement of Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer.
The university conducted an internal investigation and hired an outside legal firm familiar with athletic infractions to investigate and advise on the case. University officials also informed the SEC and NCAA, at which point the NCAA opened a formal case on the allegations.
"While the investigation is still continuing the info presented to us indicates serious violations of NCAA rules, that they occurred, and that these serious infractions warrant immediate action," said Chancellor Plowman.
Termination letters were given to the following:
- Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt
- Assistant Coach Brian Niedermeyer
- Assistant Coach Shelton Felton
- 4 members of on-campus recruiting staff (names not given)
- director of football player personnel (name not given)
- assistant director of football player personnel (name not given)
- football analyst quality control coach (name not given)
"Coach Pruitt hired and was responsible for the monitoring all nine employees that we have issued terminations letters to today. Based upon what we know, it's clear he did not adequately promote an atmosphere of compliance and/or monitor the activities of the coaches and the staff who reported to him...we have no choice to move forward with terminating Coach Pruitt," said Plowman.
Assistant Coach Kevin Steele was named acting head coach.
Plowman went on to explain that Director Fulmer did not have any involvement or knowledge of the violations but that
"The unexpected need to hire a new coach caused me to reevaluate my place in the organization," said Fulmer. "I knew we'd need stability and continuity at Tennessee and our next football coach needs to be on our sideline for 10 years or more and I'm confident that we will find that coach, but also I am confident that he will want and need to know who his AD will be for the duration. I asked chancellor Plowman if we could revisit my decision and she agreed."
Fulmer, who led Tennessee to the 1998 National Championship, changed things up in 2017 leading to the dismissal of then A.D. John Currie in the middle of a search for a new football coach. Fulmer was then named to the position and took over the dysfunctional search, landing on Pruitt.
The football program will have its fifth head coach since Fulmer was fired in November of 2008, and that coach will inherit a program with the cloud of an NCAA investigation and possible sanctions hanging over its head.
"This is not what any of us want for our football program or for our university. What is so disturbing is demonstrated by the scope of these employment actions we are announcing today is the number of the violations and the number of people involved and their efforts to conceal their activities from our compliant staff and our leadership within the department," said Chancellor Plowman.
When asked about the violations, Plowman said the university is looking at level 1 and level 2 infractions. The university will find a new athletic director then turn to the search for a new head coach.
Read More from NewsChannel 5's Steve Layman: Tennessee fires head coach Jeremy Pruitt after 3 seasons
Watch the full press conference below: