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Mayberry Machiavelli plays himself: Jeremy Pruitt fired as Fulmer’s scheming backfires spectacularly

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You hate to see it. You really do.

Iowa v Tennessee Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Three years ago, we told you what a remarkably stupid man that Phil Fulmer is, one devoted to artifice and low cunning moreso than winning on the field. With him invigorated by a Clay Travis-led digital mob, the Vols passed on several quality candidates, including the one that was closest to being realized, former national coach of the year Greg Schiano.

At that time, we said that the hiring of Jeremy Pruit was a move as transparent as it was cynical: weaken Alabama, bolster recruiting, have a weak first-time coach to manipulate, and then way at the bottom of the list maybe win some football games. We predicted that the Football Gods would not reward such cynicism and that it would all end in tears.

And, buddy, today did the wheels ever fall of that hayseed shitwagon they call an athletics department in Knoxville.

VFL

Today, dear reader, after much scheming and backstabbing by his own athletic director, Jeremy Pruitt was fired for-cause by the Tennessee Volunteers, specifically for serious Level-I infractions in recruiting. Specifically, Vols Chancellor Plowman said there were “a significant number of serious NCAA rules violations.”

As a result, Tennessee terminated Jeremy Pruitt, and got two of his best assistants out the door as well, Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton. Niedermeyer coaches ILB and was the 2019 Nat’l recruiter of the year; Felton coached OLB and has his hand in practically every intra-SEC transfer of note the last few years for Tennessee...allegedly.

The termination letter is here, just in case you want to revel in finely parsed HR CYA and legalese.

So far, nothing too shocking: head coach and/or his staff cheats, head coach gets busted, head coach and lackeys get fired.

But what makes this so bizarre is how it all went down. The investigation was opened on November 13th by Phil Fulmer and the Tennessee Athletics Department. Because we know how much Fulmer loves playing by the rules, right?

Seriously, this was always a stalking horse for one of the SEC’s most cash-strapped programs to unload a coach they never should have hired, who they improvidently gave an extension to, who had made no substantive staff changes, who wasn’t recruiting up to par, who wasn’t competitive on the field, and who destroyed quarterbacks like his name was Lawrence Taylor...and to do so without having to pay a $13 million buyout. (The ironic part about this is that the Vols should be nowhere near as broke as they are. They made the most revenue and pocketed the most profit off football in the SEC.)

The timing stinks to high hell too. This “investigation” was opened on November 13th, right after the Vols had just seen a three-game skid where they were blown out by Alabama, Georgia, and woeful Kentucky by a total of 192-46 — seriously, Alabama scored more in one game than the Vols scored in a month. Then, they were upended by the surging Razorbacks. After a strong 2-0 start, the Vols offense was in the gutter, they were 2-4 and they were heading into a two-game swing at the Swamp and at Auburn...with a season finale against Aggie looming. Even Vandy wasn’t a given.

Unsurprisingly, the Vols lost to the Barn and Gata, and on the date of Florida loss, Dec. 5th, Tennessee began leaking that it was “investigating Pruitt.” Tennessee self-reported allegations to the conference and the NCAA that week. I’m sure watching historic rival Florida play for an SEC crown, historic rival Georgia compete for playoff berths, and archrival Alabama build a football dynasty had nothing to do with it, right? Nor did the 2-6 SEC record play a part: Just Fulmer’s love of playing by the rules.

To make this especially loathsome, Fulmer dangled job security in front of Pruitt’s face provided that he hire recently released Auburn hatchet-man and wannabe’ backstabber Kevin Steele. Pruitt did that (and got Big Kat Bryant to boot), and even got through the early signing period...and then gets fired.

As the kids say, ya’ played yourself. Because, though this kind of B-movie treachery was Fulmer’s plan from the start, and it was especially apparent over the last six weeks, what Redneck Medici didn’t count on was, for all intents and purposes, being given his own walking papers today too.

The Chancellor and the UT Board of Regents let Fulmer “retire” today.

And now what should have been his crowning career achievement and his VFL Valedictory is instead a Karmic National Title. Fulmer’s reputation lies in tatters; he’s destroyed his remaining goodwill with the fanbase; he laid waste the program with his duplicity and scheming; his blind hatred of all things Crimson blew his chance at a quality hire; the Vols face another decade in the NCAA doghouse and wandering the wilds of irrelevance...and he did it. It’s on his watch. All Fulmer has left is the scant dignity of being allowed to quit and keep his state pension.

Don’t let the door hit ya’ where the good lord split ya’.

Fulmer is a relic of darker, dirtier days of the SEC, ones where schools bought favor with commissioners and there were clear favorites that the league would fall on the sword for. It was an era completely lacking in collegiality and rife with cheating — where at one point every SEC school was on probation in one sport or another. And in the rouge’s gallery, few men loomed as large as Phil Fulmer.

That is why it is so fitting that the final nail in Fulmer’s reputational coffin, the coup de grace for his career, will be a call-back to those Bad Ole’ Days of cheating, scandals, backstabbing, probation and corruption. The SEC will be better without him...and I daresay, so too will the Volunteers in the long run.

So enjoy retirement, you conniving sonuvabitch; and just know that everything you see for the next decade is your real legacy.