Pruitt committed multiple level I and level II recruiting violations and was assessed under six fire-for-cause provisions, according to a termination letter obtained by The Athletic's Dave Ubben. Tennessee is not required to honor Pruitt's $12.6-million buyout due to those violations.
Tennessee also announced it has fired outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, and seven recruiting and support staff for cause.
Defensive assistant Kevin Steele will take over as the program's interim head coach.
Additionally, Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer is expected to retire after his replacement is found, and his successor will hire the Volunteers' next head coach, according to Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Fulmer's departure is reportedly not related to the investigation.
The recruiting investigation stems from allegations related to Tennessee's efforts to obtain the services of 2021 blue-chip prospect Amarius Mims. Mims ultimately committed to Georgia.
Tennessee gave Pruitt a contract extension before the start of the 2020 season that would have seen him remain the program's leading man until 2025. The 46-year-old was set to earn $4.2 million annually on his new deal beginning this year, according to ESPN's Chris Low and Mark Schlabach.
Pruitt's attorney, Michael Lyons, addressed the firing in a statement to Stadium's Brett McMurphy.
"This afternoon, coach Pruitt learned that Tennessee was terminating his employment for cause. He is extremely disappointed with the decision, the public announcement of which was made prior to any substantive opportunity to respond before the appropriate decision-makers," read the statement.
"We believe the decision to be the culmination of an orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises made to coach Pruitt upon his hiring in 2017 and reiterated less than five months ago."
Hired by Tennessee ahead of the 2018 campaign, Pruitt coached the Volunteers for three seasons after working as a defensive coordinator for Alabama. He amassed a 16-19 record during his tenure in Knoxville and led Tennesee to a 3-7 SEC record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Volunteers dropped seven of eight games after winning their first two contests of 2020.
Pruitt is the fourth SEC head coach fired this offseason, joining Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, and South Carolina's Will Muschamp.