A lawyer representing Jeremy Pruitt has given University of Tennessee officials until Oct. 29 to reach a financial settlement with former football coach Vols, or face a lawsuit which he says will include details of a myriad of NCAA rule violations in the football and other sports program and result in debilitating NCAA penalties.
In an Oct. 7 letter to Tennessee General Counsel Ryan Stinnett, Dallas attorney Michael Lyons called for a meeting to resolve Pruitt’s demands for a $ 12.6 million buyout he claims he owes him after being fired in January for alleged violations of his program rules. The university said he was fired for just cause and owed her nothing.
“As we have already discussed, a public trial with its discovery, document productions, depositions, disclosures and court records is a no-win situation for UT,” Lyons wrote in the letter, which was obtained by ESPN Tuesday via a request for open records. “Even if UT prevails over its claimed contract defenses, which is unlikely, public disclosures from the lawsuit will invariably embarrass UT, its sports department and administration. All parties to this dispute should try to avoid this. ”
The contents of the letter were first reported by USA Today Network.
Lyons warned in his letter that a lawsuit “could trap the parties for years to come, further attack the reputation of the university and potentially cripple UT’s athletic programs for years to come.”
Additionally, Lyons alleged in his letter that UT’s senior administration “ignored and covered up” several self-reported NCAA violations during Pruitt’s tenure as coach, and certain violations that occurred prior to his hiring. .
Lyons added in his letter: “We have learned that the top UT administration is involved in or encouraging unacceptable recruiting tactics. We have also learned that several leading UT boosters have been and are involved in efforts to inadmissibly recruit student-athletes across multiple sports spanning multiple workouts. regimes, some of which are still in place. “
In a response to Lyon on Monday, Stinnett wrote that the university “refuses to participate in any informal or formal settlement negotiations with your client. The university maintains that they had good cause to terminate your client for breach of their employment contract in January, and our position has only grown stronger since then. “
Stinnett noted in his response that “the evidence already gathered is sufficient to persuade any investigator that your client’s termination for cause was fully justified.”
Sources told ESPN that Tennessee has yet to receive notice of the NCAA allegations.
In its letter, Lyons asked Tennessee and its employees to retain “all documents and communications regarding ineligible benefits provided by UT donors to student athletes” and “the use of any foundation or organization in connection with of the granting of advantages to student athletes or recruits ”. He also requested retention of records related to volunteer basketball coach Rick Barnes, former athletic director Phillip Fulmer, former assistant football coaches, specific boosters and others.
Barnes responded on Tuesday, criticizing Pruitt’s actions.
“I’m really disappointed that Jeremy is throwing out the names of people that he knows he only supported him all the time he was here and make these unsubstantiated claims,” Barnes told ESPN. “I would invite the NCAA to come any day of the week and investigate our program. I have too much respect for our players, our school and our administration for anyone to think we weren’t doing things here and make such ridiculous statements.
“Jeremy isn’t here because of the decisions he’s made and the way he’s run his program. Here’s what I know: Our college has gone out of its way to work with the NCAA to clean up the mess it left behind and end this. . “
In a notice of intent to terminate letter sent to Pruitt in January, the university concluded that “the conduct of at least two assistant coaches and several recruiting staff is likely to lead to a conclusion of the NCAA Level I and / or Level II Violations of one or more applicable sporting rules. The University also concluded that these probable findings were the result of either your material negligence or the lack of reasonable preventive compliance actions. “
The school also fired assistant coaches Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton, four campus football recruiting staff, the director and deputy director of football player personnel and a football analyst / quality control coach.
Chancellor Donde Plowman said in January that the number of people involved and the number of incidents revealed by the university’s internal investigation were “overwhelming” and “shocking”.
“Interestingly, your letter contains no denial of your client’s actions,” Stinnett wrote in Lyon. “Instead, you are raising vague and unsupported allegations of other violations by the University and threatening to embarrass the University publicly by exposing these alleged violations. The University categorically denies these allegations and will not be intimidated to settle with your client based on your unsubstantiated claims. “
Lyons, in comments to ESPN, questioned Tennessee’s decision making.
“Tennessee has taken a step back and made the decision not to pay Jeremy Pruitt, and my client is going to protect his interests,” Lyons told ESPN on Tuesday. “That’s why he hired me. I’m not surprised. … Someone in the direction of Tennessee is going to have to go back and look at this when it’s all said and done and say, “Was it worth it?” Is it worth the loss of reputation you are going to suffer among the good, qualified coaches who are ready to come to Tennessee? I’m not just talking about football, I’m talking about any sport. to exercise through the NCAA process for self-reported violations that you find through this process? “
Lyons previously represented former Kansas football coach David Beaty, who sued the Jayhawks in March 2019, after withholding his buyout because the university claimed he committed an NCAA Level II violation. In June 2020, the parties agreed to a $ 2.55 million settlement.
Earlier this month, the Independent Liability Resolution Process informed Beaty that it had withdrawn the allegation against him and was no longer part of the case.
“If anyone thinks I’m a bluffer, go talk to Kansas. See what he says, ”Lyons said. “It’s not my reputation. I am an advocate for my client, but I have an ethical duty to make sure I do not distort anything. I’m definitely not going to put anything in a letter that details an NCAA Violation that Tennessee needs to turn around and report. Because then, what happens? I can’t talk about it. It’s under an NCAA investigation, isn’t it? “
Just before the 2020 season, Tennessee announced that they had rewarded Pruitt with an overtime and a raise, extending his contract until the 2025 season. Pruitt was expected to earn $ 4.2 million per year from 2021.
Pruitt was 16-19 overall in Tennessee and 10-16 against opponents in the SEC. The Vols were 2-11 against AP-rated opponents under Pruitt, who was on his first stint as head coach. He was previously the defensive coordinator in Alabama under Nick Saban. He currently works as a senior defensive analyst for the New York Giants.