Former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt is guarded by security after a game.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Jeremy Pruitt Cites George Floyd In Tennessee NCAA Investigation

Former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt is under fire after mentioning George Floyd in his NCAA investigation defense.

Last week, the NCAA hit the Tennessee Volunteers with over $8 million in fines for infractions during former head football coach Jeremy Pruitt's tenure, and now we have some transcripts of what he said during these investigations.

The Knox News, via an open records request, obtained documents containing quotes from Pruitt from January 2021 and November 2022.

In addition to the $8 million in fines, Pruitt was given a six-year "show-cause penalty" for his part in a scandal that included over 200 infractions, with 18 of those considered "Level 1," the highest level of severity. Several former Volunteers assistant coaches and staff members also received show-cause penalties, meaning that universities cannot hire them without dealing with penalties during the length of the ban.

Details From Jeremy Pruitt's NCAA Investigation Revealed

Former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt argues on the sideline.

Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to these documents, Pruitt cited George Floyd, COVID-19 and mental health, and mentioned that some players' moms would accuse him of things to prevent their sons from facing sanctions.

Regarding him giving a player's mother $300 in a Chick-fil-A bag, he said he had been thinking about racial inequity and the deaths of Black people at the time.

Leading up to that incident, Pruitt said he gave a mother the money during the COVID-19 shutdown period because she was dealing with financial hardship and the UT's Student Assistance Fund didn't have enough money left to provide assistance.

He also said that his privilege, her race, and social issues were on his mind.

"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," Pruitt said.

"(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."

He continued to defend himself, saying, "I would do it again because I don't think it's breaking the rules (based on what would've been available through UT's Student Assistance Fund if not for the pandemic)," Pruitt said. "I don't know about y'all, but I've got little kids, and I hope one of these days when I'm dead and gone that somebody does the right thing for them."

The same mother who received the $300 also said she received $3,000. Pruitt admitted to the $300 payment but denied making the $3,000 payment. He also denied another claim from another player's mother who said she received $6,000 for a downpayment on a car.

The sons of these mothers eventually transferred from Tennessee and played elsewhere.

Pruitt was also accused of making large cash withdrawals during recruiting trips but said that the NCAA cherry-picked these, as he's always made large cash withdrawals. He made 115 four-figure or five-figure cash withdrawals between 2016-2017 as the Alabama Crimson Tide defense coordinator and between 2018-2020 as the Volunteers' head coach. However, the NCAA was said to have reviewed testimony, texts and other phone records in its investigation.

As for his first-ever violation, he claims it came during the COVID-19 shutdown when two players were in dire need of help. One of the players lived alone in a dorm, and Pruitt said he was thinking about the player's mental health after he drove around Knoxville with the player and and the player started speaking about things that "made no sense." He said he contacted the UT players' medical staff for help.

Pruitt claimed the player said he didn't have much to eat, so he gave him $100. "And I told him, I said, 'If you need anything else, you call me.'"

As for the second player, he supposedly needed $150 for diapers and formula, and Pruitt gave him $150. Pruitt reported these violations to Adam Tate, the UT assistant athletics director, for compliance.

What does Pruitt think about the penalties?

He says he agrees he should be punished, but not to the extent he is. He claims that he made minor violations but would accept responsibility for those under his watch, though the things were unknown. He called members of his staff "bad actors." He offered to accept a one-year show-cause penalty but argued that if he were fired for cause, it would negate his $12.6 million buyout. (The university said it fired Pruitt with cause and would not have to pay his buyout.) So, with that, plus not being hired by a school for the past two years, it would be a steep punishment.

MORE: Tennessee Volunteers Football Committed Over 200 Violations: Report