Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure as the Tennessee head coach was notably marred by off-the-field NCAA violations, resulting in his ouster at the conclusion of the 2020 season. The resultant NCAA case is still churning along, with show-cause penalties being handed down for a number of former assistant coaches and staffers on Tuesday.
But the resolution of the cases against people lower on the totem pole doesn’t mean Pruitt or Tennessee is off the hook yet. Veteran SEC reporter and current columnist for the USA Today Network, Blake Toppmeyer, explained where things stand during an interview on “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Tuesday afternoon.
“I think some people may wonder, ‘Well, how is the NCAA coming out with this in bits and pieces? Why have they reached a resolution with members of Pruitt’s staff, but not with Jeremy Pruitt.’ Well, in the language here from the NCAA, this was a resolution reached between the NCAA and these former members of Jeremy Pruitt’s staff. In other words, these former assistants, staff members, agreed to the show-cause penalty. I don’t think there was any avoiding it,” Toppmeyer said. “They agreed to it to reach a resolution here.”
Toppmeyer continued: “Jeremy Pruitt, it’s no mystery why he would be fighting a show-cause here: He’s maintained from the start that a lot of this was going on without his knowledge. Tennessee says otherwise. And if you look at that NCAA report, certainly, there are allegations that would point to a show-cause, that I don’t think going to agree to that, wants to agree to that. So, in the meantime, he continues to sort of be stuck in purgatory as he contests some of these allegations from the NCAA and from Tennessee.”
Toppmeyer explained that a prolonged case, potentially taking years to get resolved, does not suit Pruitt. He currently doesn’t have a coaching job and would seemingly like to return as soon as possible.
However, with Tennessee staring down the barrel of institutional charges of failing to monitor the football program, the preference from that side is likely a slow, drawn-out process. But as the Tennessee administrations continues along the line of placing the blame on Pruitt and his staff, the former coach might ultimately be incentivized to just get things over with.
“Staying in college football purgatory doesn’t work wonders for Jeremy Pruitt. He can’t get a job, right, while this hangs over him. For Tennessee, I think it works a little bit the other way. Like, no news is good news. Yes, there’s this allegation out there of failure to monitor. But if this thing sort of just drags along and drags along and never reached the sanctions stage, I mean Tennessee is in the free and clear.”
Toppmeyer explained how Pruitt might agrue his way out of the case
Pruitt doesn’t have much by way of arguments against the charges, with former employees under him getting NCAA sanctions and his former employer all too happy to let him shoulder the brunt of it. But Toppmeyer did identify one avenue of argue for Pruitt to potentially pursue.
“One thing Pruitt may have working — if there’s anything Pruitt has working in his advantage, I think it’s that when Tennessee made this change of leadership, Phillip Fulmer the athletic director, was not fired. He was ushered into retirement. And Tennessee said that all of this was going on without Phillip Fulmer’s knowledge. Of course, long time legendary coach at Tennessee who became the athletic director and was sort of omnipresent around Tennessee’s program during his time as athletic director.”
Basically, because Tennessee public insisted Fulmer didn’t have anything to do with what happened, it leaves a door open — and lends some credence — for Pruitt to argue that he didn’t know what was happening, either.
“I would say, ‘Hey, if the athletic director, who spent many, many years running the football program, is very close to the football program as the AD, if he didn’t know any of this was going on, isn’t it plausible that the head coach didn’t know some of this was going on,'” Toppmeyer said.