Photo Credit: The Athletic
October 29th is fast approaching. While this date should be meaningless, the attorney for Jeremy Pruitt, the former Nick Saban assistant and head coach at the University of Tennessee, has given some meaning to the date by designating it as the final day for the University of Tennessee to reach a settlement with his client regarding his termination as the coach of the Volunteers. One-half of Conduct Detrimental’s fearless leadership duo, Dan Lust, has previously discussed this situation:
After three years as the head coach for the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team, where he compiled an underwhelming 16-19 record (including a record of 10-16 in Southeastern Conference play), Jeremy Pruitt was fired by the University of Tennessee after a disappointing 3-7 record for the 2020 season. The university took the position that Pruitt was being fired for cause because of potential recruiting violations that were revealed during an internal investigation of the program.
In the termination letter that was sent to Pruitt in January, the University of Tennessee noted that the potential violations were “likely to lead to an [National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”)] finding of Level I and/or Level II violations of one or more Governing Athletic Rules” and that the conduct, which was attributed to assistant coaches and recruiting staff members, were “the result of either [Pruitt’s] material neglect or lack of reasonable preventive compliance measures.” Social media lit up at the time with rumblings of cash being delivered by University of Tennessee football staff members delivering cash to recruits in McDonald’s bags
And then things went silent for a few months: Pruitt’s firing was no longer a focus of the news cycle and the University of Tennessee moved on by hiring Josh Heupel as its fifth head coach since 2009.
Then, on October 19th, Jeremy Pruitt entered the news cycle again as the media began reporting that Pruitt’s attorney sent a letter, dated October 7th, to the University of Tennessee’s general counsel, Ryan Stinnett, seeking a meeting to facilitate a multimillion-dollar settlement related to Pruitt’s firing. Pruitt, through his attorney, is taking the position that the firing was not proper; essentially, the argument being made is that the University of Tennessee did not have cause for its firing of Jeremy Pruitt.
But Jeremy Pruitt’s attorney may have made a rookie mistake in using the media to pressure the University of Tennessee with bad publicity to encourage a settlement with his client. In his letter, Pruitt’s attorney gave the university the October 29th deadline to settle or face a lawsuit that would “cripple UT’s athletic programs for years.” Allegations were lobbied in the letter that administration at the University of Tennessee encouraged, or were even involved in, recruiting tactics that would violate NCAA rules and that boosters for the university have been involved in recruiting in ways that violate NCAA rules. In his response letter to Pruitt’s attorney, Stinnett took on these allegations – which may be construed as thinly veiled threats to encourage a settlement – directly and with force. If, assuming these allegations, which the University of Tennessee vehemently denies and that Stinnett calls “vague and unsupported,” are true, they only serve as further proof that the University of Tennessee had cause to fire Jeremy Pruitt pursuant to paragraph 3.2.2(c) of Jeremy Pruitt’s employment agreement with the university due to Pruitt’s failure to report such findings. If Pruitt knew of some of these allegations of wrongdoing that his attorney is now asserting against the University of Tennessee while he was employed as the university’s head coach, this knowledge and subsequent failure to report the potential violations to university leadership would be justification for Pruitt’s for cause firing.
The failure by Pruitt’s attorney to carefully consider this implication when sending a letter to the University of Tennessee has given the university further ammunition to support its case that the firing of Pruitt was rightfully done for cause. And, as evidenced by Stinnett’s response letter, the university has no desire to back down or settle because of the threats made in the letter sent by Pruitt’s attorney. Let this serve as a warning to all attorneys: be careful that you do not strengthen the other side’s arguments when zealously defending your client.
 Tennessee firing football coach Jeremy Pruitt after internal investigation (espn.com); Jeremy Pruitt lawyer threatens to cripple Tennessee athletics in suit (knoxnews.com).  Tennessee firing football coach Jeremy Pruitt after internal investigation (espn.com); Jeremy Pruitt lawyer threatens to cripple Tennessee athletics in suit (knoxnews.com).  University Respond to Pruitt's lawyers | PDF (scribd.com).  University Respond to Pruitt's lawyers | PDF (scribd.com).