Why is it taking so long for a Jeremy Pruitt decision? Maybe Tennessee thinks he deserves to sweat | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

How do you fire a football coach?

Answer: Very carefully if the coach has a buyout as large as Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Three weeks since the Vols' last game, deliberations continue about the future of a football coach who is 16-19 after three seasons and never has come close to beating Alabama, Florida or Georgia.

If Pruitt were as deliberate as his UT bosses, Jimmy Brumbaugh still would have a job at Tennessee. Brumbaugh is the defensive line coach whom Pruitt fired after a 34-7 loss to Kentucky.

Pruitt then took over the defensive line himself.

UT’s record with Brumbaugh as defensive line coach: 2-2. UT’s record with Pruitt as defensive line coach: 1-5.

Based on those numbers, Pruitt also should have fired himself as defensive line coach. Then, anyone trying to make a case for keeping Pruitt as UT’s coach could say, “Well, it doesn’t take him long to spot a bad defensive line coach.”

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt argues a call during the third quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Most folks have decided it’s too late to make a case for keeping Pruitt. But many of them are so displeased with how he has managed the football program, they probably don’t mind the prolonged process.

After all, he made them sweat out the 2020 season. Why should he be rewarded with a quick firing?

Firing a college coach with a buyout of almost $13 million is a tedious process involving lawyers, agents, bean counters and – in Tennessee’s case – experts in NCAA compliance. You can’t just “Brumbaugh” a coach.

The compliance contingent has the leverage. If it uncovers enough NCAA violations on Pruitt’s watch, Tennessee could fire him for cause. Then it could be bye-bye buyout.

UT also would score points with the NCAA if it sacrificed its head coach as one of its self-imposed penalties. But there could be a downside to unearthing serious violations. The NCAA can – and often does – pile on penalties of its own.

Should Tennessee be concerned that the possibility of NCAA sanctions might scare off some coaches? Perhaps. But if a coach really wants the job, that won’t necessarily deter him. It’s not as though UT will be in the running for championships anytime soon. Missing out on a minor bowl game wouldn’t be catastrophic, either.

However, when you’re trying to rebuild a program, you don’t want to lose any scholarships. And maybe Tennessee won’t.

Possible sanctions are down the road. NCAA investigations don’t play out as fast internal ones.

So you might not know for awhile just how bad the Jeremy Pruitt era has been. But you already know how wrong athletic director Phillip Fulmer was about this hire, which he made six days after taking over UT's coaching search in December 2017.

Fulmer's bad hire was exacerbated by his giving Pruitt a contract extension and $400,000 raise in September.

Never mind that the Vols ended the 2019 season on a six-game winning streak. Pruitt's record at UT was 13-12, and no one else was trying to hire him. Why waste the money in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis it induced?

Another question that UT's chancellor and president should be asking themselves: Why allow an administrator of Fulmer's caliber to make those kind of decisions?

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.