Jeremy Pruitt’s excuse for bribing Tennessee recruit won’t cut it

Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Former Tennessee Volunteers football coach Jeremy Pruitt is effectively banned from college football for bribing recruits. His excuses won’t cut it. 

Jeremy Pruitt coached the Tennessee Volunteers football program from 2018-20. He went 16-19 over that span and was fired in 2021 after an internal investigation at the university revealed rampant recruiting violations.

The NCAA later invested the matter and determined that Pruitt did, in fact, aid and abet the recruiting violations that took place at Tennessee. Several assistant coaches were involved and Pruitt himself participated in the bribing of recruits.

Adam Sparks of Knox News recently gained access to documents that include Pruitt’s statements to investigators early in the NCAA’s probe. His comments illuminate the alleged motivation and/or excuses behind the bribes but don’t expect him to catch a break from the college football community.

Former Tennessee Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt defends bribes to recruits

In one instance, Pruitt gave $300 to a recruit’s mother in a Chick-fil-a parking lot outside the UT football complex. She was in financial distress. Pruitt cited George Floyd and the country’s ongoing social justice battle as a motivating factor behind the ‘bribe.’

"“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.”"

Let’s separate fact from fiction here. In general, a financially stable man giving a financially unstable woman $300 to help with bills out of the kindness of his heart is a good thing. It’s not difficult to morally justify that particular decision.

Of course, it’s impossible to separate Pruitt’s decision and the NCAA rules, which explicitly disallow cash bribes from a coach to a player’s family. It’s impossible to discern the moral purity of Pruitt’s actions in the broader landscape of college football recruiting. Especially when one considers Pruitt’s track record.

Then there’s Pruitt’s justification, which goes beyond simply helping a person in need. While it’s generally admirable for a man in his position to be thinking actively about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the myriad miscarriages of justice facing Black people around the country, to use those issues to deflect blame in this setting — an NCAA probe into recruiting rules violations — feels rather slimy.

Pruitt could absolutely be speaking from a genuine place of care and concern, but he’s twisting the narrative around social justice and COVID-induced financial hardships to fit his own narrative. That’s not great, and it certainly didn’t put him in the good graces of the NCAA.

Now Pruitt faces a six-year show-cause penalty, which effectively bans him from coaching college football any time soon.

"“A show-cause penalty means a university cannot hire a coach or recruiter without being subjected to penalties during the length of the ban unless the NCAA signs off. Pruitt’s show-cause is an effective ban. It includes a 100% suspension for the first year of employment should an NCAA school hire in him in any athletics position.”"

Pruitt faces several other accusations of bribery, with some bribes reaching four figures. He is also being punished for the assistant coaches who committed violations under his supervision.

Tennessee has been plenty successful both in the recruiting game and on the field since Pruitt’s exit in 2021. He most recently spent time as a defensive assistant with the NFL’s New York Giants in 2021, but since then football employment has eluded Pruitt.

Don’t expect him back on the college football sidelines for a while.

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