Jeremy Pruitt came to Tennessee after a messy and meandering coaching search that put the national spotlight on Rocky Top for all the wrong reasons. He's leaving Tennessee under similarly unusual and unflattering circumstances.
Tennessee fired Pruitt on Monday following an internal investigation into potential recruiting violations in the program.
Pruitt went 16-19 in three seasons with the Vols, including a 10-16 mark in SEC play. He led Tennessee on a late-season surge in 2019 that culminated with a Gator Bowl win over Indiana, but the team backslid considerably this past fall, suffering seven double-digit losses and finishing 108th nationally in scoring (21.5 ppg) and 102nd in yards per game (346.2 ypg). Aside from the recruiting issues, which aren't uncommon at Power 5 programs, Pruitt seemed in over his head as a head coach and better suited as an SEC defensive coordinator.
Tennessee is now back in the coaching market for the fifth time since 2008, when Phillip Fulmer reluctantly stepped down as coach. Fulmer, who took over as athletic director during the previous coaching search, is on his way out, too. His management of the program, including awarding Pruitt a completely unnecessary contract extension in September, shows change is needed.
Tennessee's administrative flux during the years, both with athletics and the university, undoubtedly has contributed to the decline in football performance. Who makes this hire, how it's made and what penalties loom make the situation more complicated.
The school has tradition, a large and passionate fan base, strong facilities and other attributes, but it must make a smart and qualified coaching hire to begin gaining on Georgia and Florida in the SEC East. Here's a look at potential candidates on Rocky Top.