Philip Fulmer Steps Down, Jeremy Pruitt Fired & Possible Heavy NCAA Sanctions Await The Struggling Program
Tennessee Football, Jeremy Pruitt, Vols, Rocky Top
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com College Football Editor
It has the Vol Walk, the Salute To The Hill, the Splitting of the T, Smokey the mascot and the checkerboard end zones.
And now, there is now a new tradition on Rock Top: turmoil.
Tennessee football is in turmoil once again, and this one tops all the other ones of the previous decade. Monday, Jan 18, 2021 may long be remembered as “Black Monday” on the Hill, and not because it was also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
That’s because that was the day the school fired its football coach, Jeremy Pruitt, announced “stunning” recruiting violations from an internal investigation and lost its athletic director.
The announcement was not made by the AD, which is usually how these things work when a coach is involved, but by Chancellor Donde Plowman. Maybe that’s because Plowman also announced that AD Philip Fulmer – seated at at a table next to her for a press conference – would be retiring from his role.
There had been rumors circulating for two months about an internal investigation of the program and Pruitt’s future, tho a cynical person could suspect it was just a cover so the administration could fire him for just cause.
After all, UT is still paying off its previous unsuccessful coach and Pruitt’s buyout sat at $12.6 million. And what better way to get rid of a coach with a 16-19 record (3-9 in 2020) without being on the hook for millions?
The previous week, the school (not the coach) announced the hiring of Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator, which to any semi-astute observer should have raised an eyebrow like Pruitt’s in a press conference. Fulmer was likely forced out, too; it’s not his nature to do anything other than on his own terms.
UT football has been in turmoil since Fulmer’s last year as head coach in 2008 when he went 5-7, including shocking a season-opening defeat to what turned out to be a 4-7 mostly inept UCLA team in which the players were looking in the stands as often as they were on the field. (I know I was there.)
From there, UT hired the over-egoed Lane Kiffin (7-6 in one year before bolting to USC, where he was eventually fired), the overmatched Derek Dooley (15-21 in three years), the overwhelmed Butch Jones (51-30 in five years) and then the underwhelming Pruitt.
UT fans will laugh at this, but maybe the school should not have been so quick to fire Dooley after all. I mean, how much worse off would the program be if they kept him? At least there would be stability at head coach and the school would not likely be facing NCAA sanctions that could cripple it for several years into the future.
But this is UT football, where a new tradition has been established alongside those great ones of the past. If General Bob Neyland were alive, he may request his name be removed from the stadium.