The lawyer representing former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt gave UT an ultimatum: Either reach a settlement with Pruitt by Oct. 29, or face a lawsuit that the lawyer claims has the potential to “cripple UT’s athletic programs for years.”
The university intends to stand its ground, with no plans to settle, promising a “vigorous defense” if Pruitt chooses to go to court. A lawsuit is a certainty if there’s no settlement, said Michael Lyons, Pruitt’s Texas-based lawyer, in an interview Tuesday with the USA TODAY Network.
“On behalf of my client, I can tell you that he’s not happy that this is the only choice they’ve left him with,” Lyons said, “but he’s not going to walk away without getting his day in court.”
“He’s going to file a lawsuit,” Lyons added. “They’re not leaving him much choice.”
UT fired Pruitt for cause Jan. 18, saying it had uncovered evidence that members of Pruitt’s football staff engaged in conduct likely to result in serious NCAA rules violations and Pruitt failed to monitor their actions or promote an atmosphere of compliance. Because UT fired Pruitt for cause, he did not receive any of the $12.6 million buyout that was part of his contract.
Lyons’ letter made no attempt to defend Pruitt, but instead threatened a lawsuit that would aim to embarrass the university and unmask widespread rule-breaking behavior Lyons alleges extends above and beyond Pruitt’s football staff.
University general counsel Ryan Stinnett wrote Monday in response to Lyons that UT has no intention of settling and is prepared to defend its actions.
Lyons made several broad assertions in his letter to UT that are not supported with details in his letter, writing that his law firm unearthed “startling information” that points toward NCAA rule-breaking conduct dating back several years and across multiple sports.
Lyons alleges that university administrators ignored or covered up NCAA violations occurring before and during the Pruitt era, and he wrote that UT’s administration was involved in or encouraged impermissible recruiting tactics. Lyons wrote that his firm has learned of impermissible booster involvement in recruiting across multiple sports.
“If Coach Pruitt is forced to file a lawsuit,” Lyons wrote, “it is inevitable that this information will become public, embarrass UT and those associated with it, including its largest donors, and result in debilitating NCAA sanctions.”
A potential lawsuit, Lyons wrote, is a “no-win situation” for Tennessee.