Tennessee and its former coach are locked in a game of chicken with a $12 million prize.
The Vols fired Jeremy Pruitt for cause on Jan. 18 and, as Blake Toppmyer details for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the coach's camp is willing to burn the whole athletics department down if they don't fork over the buyout.
Pruitt is represented by Michael Lyons, a Dallas-based attorney whom astute readers will recall represented David Beaty in his case of Kansas trying to gin up an NCAA investigation to get out of its $3 million buyout. In that case, Lyons ended up getting Beaty $2.55 million and a letter from the NCAA saying not only was his client not guilty on all charges, they didn't even find anything to charge him with. (Worth noting: Former video coordinator Jeff Love got the same letter without hiring a lawyer.)
In this case, Lyons didn't deny Pruitt may have committed and/or overseen NCAA violations, but that Tennessee was aware of violations committed before and around Pruitt and didn't do anything about it.
Among the people whose records Lyons wants preserved are: Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee’s former football coach and later the athletics director who hired Pruitt; former football coach Butch Jones; current football assistant coach Willie Martinez, who also worked for Jones; former football assistant Tommy Thigpen, who is now on staff at North Carolina; former associate AD Carmen Tegano; men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes; Chancellor Donde Plowman; donor Larry Pratt; and AAU basketball coach and former Vols player Bobby Maze.
“We’re not here to bluff," Lyons said Tuesday.
"I can promise you that we’ve investigated it very carefully," he added, when asked about the lack of specific details regarding the allegations and individuals referenced in his letter, "and I’m not going to give them and spoil the surprise of what we have, but you can rest assured that we’ve done our homework.”
On the flip side, Tennessee essentially shrugged its shoulders and called Lyons' bluff.
“Your letter contains no denials of your client’s actions,” UT general counsel Ryan Stinnett wrote in response. “Instead, you raise vague and unsupported allegations of other violations by the University and threaten to embarrass the University publicly by revealing these alleged violations.
“The University emphatically denies these allegations and will not be intimidated into settling with your client based on your unsupported assertions.”
Lyons has given Tennessee until Oct. 29 -- next Friday -- to fork over $12 million or a suitable amount close to $12 million or he'll file a lawsuit on his client's behalf.