Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt has told investigators that he made illegal payments and broke NCAA rules as a prominent incident of social injustice was on his mind. They weren’t buying it, and neither was the school. Pruitt was fired in January 2021 after three seasons.
The NCAA finally handed down its punishment last week, and much more has come to light. Tennessee was fined $8 million, Pruitt was hit with a six-year show-cause penalty, wins were vacated and 28 scholarships will be cut over five years in response to more than 200 infractions. Those football-related punishments – while harsh – are not out of the norm in today’s enforcement environment.
However, the reason Jeremy Pruitt gave for breaking the rules in such a way was strange to the point of being laughable: The excommunicated Vols leader claimed that the tragic death of George Floyd was on his mind when he handed a recruit’s mother a Chick Fil-A bag filled with $300 in cash.
That’s right. Jeremy Pruitt claims that he was almost forced to break the rules. Not to win championships, go to bowl games, and eventually make more money. Instead, he reasoned, he was doing it as some kind of vile vigilante.
Pruitt allegedly told the NCAA watchdogs that the murder of George Floyd was one of the motivating factors in his decision to financially aid the player in question.
“Then you throw in George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, okay, so you sit there as a white man and you see all of this going on and you can see these kids suffering … (It’s) pitiful when you sit in a room and you hear grown men, and I’m talking about our coaches too, when they talk about growing up and the circumstances that they’ve been under, because it’s hard for a white man to understand, right,” Pruitt explained.
Pruitt only posted a record 16-19 (10-16 in SEC play) during his short tenure in Knoxville. Without a sterling record and having already being labeled as a cheater, these comments won’t help out the coach much either. Despite his insistince that he had ‘doing what’s right’ on his mind, no one believes his version of the events. And the fact that he used a brutal killing of and an issue that was a flashpoint to make excuses for his wrongdoing? It says quite a bit about his character.