KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An attorney representing former Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired alongside several other coaching staff in January after an investigation began into reported NCAA recruiting violations, is demanding a financial settlement by University of Tennessee officials by October 29.
Pruitt's attorney Michael Lyons sent a letter dated October 7 to UT's Office of the General Counsel requesting an informal settlement, else Pruitt would file a public lawsuit revealing details of the NCAA violations that he said would "invariably embarrass UT" and be a "no-win situation."
"We have learned that UT upper administration was involved in or encouraged impermissible recruiting tactics. We have also learned that several prominent UT boosters have been and are involved in efforts to impermissibly recruit student athletes across multiple sports spanning multiple coaching regimes -- some of which are still in place," the letter read.
Local defense lawyer, Don Bosch said this isn't an unprecedented method in law practice.
"It's not unusual in preliminary or even mid-level settlement negotiations for letters to come like this and ultimately present some ultimatums," Bosch said," It is sort of a nuclear bomb and litigation, but it's not unusual for lawyers to take sometimes a scorched earth approach."
However, even to an experienced professional, he said the letter was "different."
"It was a very strong letter. It was a very accusatory letter, it named other people and could even present problems for Coach Pruitt's counsel," Bosch said.
On October 18, UT replied to Lyons with a letter declining to participate in "any formal or informal" settlement negotiations with Pruitt, saying it would mount a "vigorous defense" should Pruitt sue.
"Interestingly, your letter contains no denials of your client’s actions. Instead, you raise vague and unsupported allegations of other violations by the University and threaten to embarrass the University publicly by revealing these alleged violations," UT General Counsel C. Ryan Stinnett replied.
Bosch was surprised by UT's response.
"Historically, UT has tried to settle these matters and settle them quietly and effectively. This seems to be one of the first times in my recollection, where UT is pushing back very hard," Bosch said.
Stinnett said the university denied any allegations and would not be intimidated into a settlement with Pruitt based on "unsupported assertations."
"The University has already taken necessary steps to preserve all evidence pertaining to your client’s termination and the underlying investigation. The University will supplement its evidence preservation to specifically address the items you listed; however, your attempts to drag innocent donors and other coaches into this matter is tactless, highly offensive, and only serves to exacerbate this dispute," Stinnett said.
On January 18, UT said Pruitt was fired from his position as head coach for failing to promptly report recruiting violations committed by nine employees under his leadership. Because the university fired him with cause, Pruitt did not receive the more-than-$12-million buyout built into his contract.
UT in July said it had spent at least $665,000 in legal and consulting fees to conduct an internal investigation into the football program's recruiting violations.
Lyons requested that Tennessee preserve all documents, as well as communications provided by UT donors to student-athletes regarding impermissible benefits. He also added requests for the preservation of documents related to Tennessee men's basketball head coach Rick Barnes, former AD Phillip Fulmer, and other former head football coaches that came before Pruitt.
"I'm really disappointed that Jeremy would throw people's names around that he knows did nothing but support him the entire time he was here and make these unsubstantiated claims," Barnes told ESPN on Tuesday. "I would invite the NCAA to come in any day of the week and investigate our program. I have too much respect for our players, our school and our administration for somebody to ever think we were not doing things right here and make such ridiculous statements."
Pruitt finished his Tennessee tenure with a 16-19 record. Before his final season in 2020, he received an extension through 2025 that would have payed him $4.2 million annually.