Jeremy Pruitt's lawyer seeks Oct. 29 deadline for settlement by Tennessee, says Volunteers facing lawsuit if not met

A lawyer representing Jeremy Pruitt gave the University of Tennessee officials until October 29 to reach a financial agreement with him. If not, he claims he will file a lawsuit that will detail NCAA violations in his football program. This could lead to debilitating NCAA sanctions.
Attorney Michael Lyons from Dallas asked for a meeting with Ryan Stinnett, Tennessee general counsel. Pruitt was requesting a $12.6million buyout. This is after he was fired in January for alleged violations of rules in his program. According to the university, he was fired for cause and is not owed anything.

Lyons stated that a public lawsuit and all related discovery, document productions depositions, disclosures and court filings are a no-win situation. The letter was obtained by ESPN via an open records request on Tuesday. Even if UT wins on its defenses to contract, which is unlikely - the public revelations of the lawsuit will invariably embarrass UT's athletics department as well as the administration. All parties should work together to resolve this dispute.

The USA Today Network first reported the contents of the letter.

Lyons stated in his letter that a lawsuit could "ensnare the parties over years, impugn university's reputation further and potentially cripple UT athletic programs for many years."

Lyons also claimed in his letter that UT's top administration "ignored" and covered up several NCAA violations Pruitt self-reported during Pruitt’s tenure as a coach, as well some violations that took place before he was hired.

Lyons also wrote: "We learned that the UT upper administration was involved or encouraged impermissible recruitment tactics. We also discovered that prominent UT boosters were and continue to be involved in recruiting student athletes in multiple sports, across multiple coaching regimes.

Stinnett responded to Lyons Monday by writing that the university "discontinues to participate in any informal and formal settlement negotiations with your clients." "The University maintained that it had good cause to terminate your client in January for violating his employment contract. Our position has only grown since then."

Stinnett responded that the evidence he had already collected was sufficient to convince any factfinder that your client's termination of services for cause was completely justified.

ESPN has been informed by sources that Tennessee has not yet received a notice from NCAA regarding allegations.

Lyons asked that Tennessee and its employees keep "all documents, communications and information regarding impermissible benefit provided by UT donors for student athletes" and "use any Foundation or organization in relation to providing benefits to student athlete or recruits". Lyons also requested that documents regarding Rick Barnes, Volunteers basketball coach, Phillip Fulmer, former assistant coaches for football, boosters, and other individuals be preserved.

Both Fulmer and Barnes responded to Pruitt's actions Tuesday.

Fulmer, a former head football coach in the Vols' Hall of Fame, hired Pruitt as their athletic director in December 2017. This was just a week after Fulmer had been named.

Fulmer stated to ESPN that he interviewed all candidates for the University of Tennessee head football coaching job, including Jeremy Pruitt. Fulmer said that he stressed that cheating was not acceptable and that no one would tolerate it. Fulmer said that Jeremy Pruitt is the only one responsible for his dismissal from UT. He was offered a fantastic opportunity at a top university and he just screwed it up.

Fulmer's words were echoed by Barnes, who is entering his seventh season of coaching the Vols' basketball team.

He told ESPN that Jeremy "is really disappointed that Jeremy would throw peoples' names around that he knows supported him throughout his time here and make these unsubstantiated allegations." "I would invite NCAA to visit our program any day of week. I have too much respect and admiration for our players, school, and administration to make such absurd statements about us.

"Jeremy isn't here because of his decisions and how he managed his program. Let me tell you, my university has done everything possible to work with the NCAA to clean up his mess and bring closure to this matter.

In a notice-of-intent-to-terminate letter sent to Pruitt in January, the university concluded that "the conduct by at least two assistant coaches and several recruiting staff members are likely to lead to an NCAA finding of Level I and/or Level II violations of one or more Governing Athletic Rules. These likely findings could also be due to your neglect of or inability to take reasonable preventive measures.

Assist coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer were also fired by the school. They were part of the on-campus football recruitment staff.

January's Chancellor Donde Plowman stated that it was "stunning", and "shocking" to see the number of people involved as well as the amount of incidents discovered by the university's internal investigation.

Stinnett wrote Lyons, "Interestingly, your correspondence contains no denials about your client's actions." "You instead raise vague, unsupported allegations about other violations by University and threaten to embarrass University publicly by revealing these violations." These allegations are categorically denied by the University and your client will not be intimidated to settle with you based on your unsupported claims.

In comments to ESPN Lyons questioned Tennessee's decision making.

Lyons stated to ESPN that Tennessee's made a decision to not pay Jeremy Pruitt. My client will protect his interests." Lyons said Tuesday. "That's what I was hired to do. It's not surprising. I'm not surprised. Someone from the Tennessee leadership will have to look back at it after it's over and decide if it was worth it. Is it worth the reputational damage that you are going to suffer from having good coaches willing to come to Tennessee to coach your team? This isn't just about football. I mean any sport. Is the pain of the NCAA self-reported violations, which you will find through this process worth it?

Lyons represented David Beaty, a former Kansas football coach. The Jayhawks withheld Beaty's buyout after the university claimed Beaty had committed a Level 2 NCAA violation. The sides reached a settlement of $2.55million in June 2020.

Beaty was notified earlier this month by the Independent Accountability Resolution Process that the allegation against Beaty had been withdrawn and that he wasn't part of the case.

"If anyone thinks that I'm a bluffer then talk to Kansas. Lyons stated, "See what they say." That's not how I want to be remembered. While I am an advocate for my client I have to be ethically responsible to ensure that I do not misrepresent any information. I won't put in a letter that would describe a NCAA violation that Tennessee must report. What happens then? It's too personal for me to talk about. It is the subject of an NCAA investigation.

Tennessee announced that Pruitt had been awarded an extension and raise just prior to the 2020 season. This will keep his contract valid through the 2025 season. Pruitt was to start in 2021 earning $4.2 million per year.

Pruitt went 16-19 at Tennessee overall and was 10-16 against SEC rivals. Pruitt was his first tenure as a head coach. The Vols went 2-11 against AP-ranked opposition. Under Nick Saban, he was the Alabama defensive coordinator. He is currently a senior defensive analyst with the New York Giants.