KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Leaders of the University of Tennessee gathered for a somber press conference Monday afternoon to formally announce and address the circumstances behind the firing of Vols football head coach Jeremy Pruitt and several other football staff following an investigation that began in November.
Simultaneously, university leaders UT president Randy Boyd and UTK chancellor Donde Plowman announced the formal retirement of vice chancellor/director of athletics Phillip Fulmer and the double-search for a new athletics director and head football coach.
Overall, there were 10 staff members who were fired. The firings stem from an internal investigation that began in November 2020. Information from “a very credible source” led to the launch of the university’s investigation and later the NCAA’s investigation in December. The university also hired a third-party law firm that specializes in NCAA rules.
“It was stunning. The number of people involved and the number of incidents… that’s partly what you see in the levels of the actions we’re taking today,” Chancellor Donde Plowman said during the press conference.
University leaders could not comment further, since the investigation is still active. University leaders emphasized “integrity” throughout the press conference.
“I share Chancellor Plowman’s and AD Fulmer’s disappointment,” Boyd said in his opening remarks. “I want to emphasize that we are prepared to take firm action…. that we put integrity first. If you can’t win the right way, you don’t belong here. If there’s anyone who hasn’t heard that, hear it now.”
UT alum Kevin Steele, who was hired last week, will be acting head coach while the university searches for the new head coach and athletics director. WATE 6 Sports Reporter Jordan Crammer asked university leaders during the press conference if Steele was aware he would be acting head coach at the time of his hiring last week; Plowman said he was aware there was an active investigation.
“As disappointed as we are, we’re determined to get this right,” Plowman said regarding the search for the new athletics director and head coach.
Phillip Fulmer said he is supporting Plowman and assured current and future athletes that Tennessee was still a great place to play.
“None of us are pleased to be here under these circumstances,” Fulmer said. “To our great alumni, families and friends, I am deeply sorry we’ve arrived at this day in our history… As hard as it is, this is a fresh start. I really appreciate Kevin Steele stepping in and helping; he wanted to come home and help his school any way he could. I appreciate the leaders of our football team, and our remaining staff – I know they will do an outstanding job, holding it together and helping to get football back on track. I will tell our current players and new signees, and I will tell future players: This is a great place to go to school and a great place to play football. As dark as this day is, there’s a light.”
This is a developing story.