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Inside the Turmoil on Rocky Top

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The facade is business as usual at the University of Tennessee.

So interviews for vacancies on Jeremy Pruitt's Volunteers' staff are taking place throughout this week, almost on a daily basis.

Interviews for offensive line coach. Those include, among others, meeting with in-house candidate Alex Jackson, a former Georgia player who's currently an analyst for the Vols, and Jim Turner, who has some 25 years in coaching in both the SEC and NFL but also is seeking employment after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Sitting in on the interviews, per sources on campus at Tennessee, is the program's athletics director and former national championship-winning coach, Phillip Fulmer. Staffers say Fulmer's also known to watch game film alongside coaches in the staff meeting rooms throughout the season.

Fulmer is mum on the entire matter aside from issuing a statement seemingly supporting Pruitt Dec. 20, 2020, after Tennessee's decision to accept a berth in the Liberty Bowl – a bid it returned after a massive COVID-19 outbreak inside the football program.

“First, it’s an opportunity to connect with our many fans throughout West Tennessee and expand upon the rich historical links between the Memphis area and UT,” Fulmer said in the press release. “We have so much Tennessee family in and around Memphis – especially our medical school and fantastic alumni.

“And secondly, it’s a tremendous development opportunity for our team and should serve as a primer to spring practice for Coach Pruitt and our returners.”

Meanwhile, echoing a FootballScoop report from last weekend, ESPN also notes that Pruitt right now isn't being allowed to hire any new assistant coaches nor renew the pacts of assistants on expiring deals.

Pruitt's staff again is facing major turnover, perhaps the most consistent element of his Tennessee tenure. At minimum, the Vols need to replace the departed Will Friend as offensive line coach and fired Jimmy Brumbaugh as defensive line coach. No coach on the UT staff is in the same position in which he was hired; only Chris Weinke and Brian Niedermeyer remain from Pruitt's debut staff.

Tennessee also is less than full at its analyst posts, after losing highly regarded offensive mind Chip Long to become offensive coordinator at Tulane, and has been operating at less than full force in its strength and conditioning program since losing Craig Fitzgerald and promoting from within the ranks.

Those departures bring to 11 the number of assistant coaches to bolt Rocky Top in Pruitt's 37 months on the job. He's lost coordinators on both sides of the ball, his strength coach and, most recently, confidante Will Friend to first South Carolina and then Auburn.

Arguably two of the program's three most-popular assistants, national title hero Tee Martin and charismatic defensive assistant Niedermeyer, are on deals expiring in the coming weeks. Jay Graham, another former Vol from the program's glory days, is signed through January 2022.

Complicating everything is a tsunami of disaster for Tennessee: the football program is being probed from within the school amidst allegations of recruiting improprieties involving multiple coaches; UT's now using the services of noted attorneys Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman, specialists in dealing with NCAA compliance issues and no stranger to UT football from the group's work with the school nearly a decade ago; it is limping into 2021 on the heels of a 3-7 season featuring a six-game losing streak and all seven losses by 11 or more points.

On the field, Tennessee is seeing its top defensive back, Bryce Thompson, exiting early to test the NFL Draft and in-state running back Ty Chandler graduate-transfer from the program. The Vols are among the nation's leaders with more than a dozen players in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Interviews with pertinent officials digging down on the matter, including the school's compliance director and current National Association for Athletics Compliance president, Andrew Donovan, are ongoing almost daily. They are scheduled to extend into next week.

Still, Tennessee now has at least one verbal commitment after seeing its portal population climbing since season's end; Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker's post on social media Thursday reveals Hooker intends to transfer to the Vols.

Of course, all of this, from the investigation to the staff interviews to accepting a pledge from a transfer quarterback, comes with timing key on every front for any football program.

LSU's close to replenishing its football staff, and new Auburn coach Bryan Harsin nearly is finished with his first full staff on the Plains. South Carolina's Shane Beamer needs to fill numerous key positions, and Clark Lea's Vanderbilt staff is on the verge of multiple hires, sources inform FootballScoop. Nick Saban's been entertaining Bill O'Brien some this week while seeking his replacement for outgoing offensive coordinator and new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian.

Tennessee, meanwhile, sits in a state of suspended animation.

What's going on? Everything and nothing, all at the same time.