It was a Chick-fil-A bag.
Ex-Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt used a Chick-fil-A bag to give several hundred dollars to the mother of a Tennessee football player after she approached him in late 2020, according to Tennessee’s response to the NCAA’s notice of allegations.
Knox News obtained Thursday the university’s 108-page document responding to the NCAA’s findings, showing the scope and nature of the alleged 18 violations committed by Pruitt and his staff. Pruitt and seven staff members were fired in January 2021.
The document stated Pruitt received a phone call from the mother of a Tennessee player in August 2020. He met the woman outside the football facility on campus, where she asked him for money.
Pruitt went to his car, where he had cash, and gave her the either $300 or $400 in a Chick-fil-A bag because “it was the human thing, the right thing to do,” Pruitt told investigators during a March 7, 2022 interview. His statement in that regard is the lone proof for the cash payment, according to the document. The money in a Chick-fil-A bag was “to assist with other expenses,” while evidence suggested Pruitt previously supplied $3,000 to assist with outstanding medical bills.
The names of the player and his mother were redacted from the document.
The notion of money being given in a fast-food bag was linked to the Tennessee football violations when Dan Patrick reported on Jan. 19, 2021, that money changed hands in McDonald’s bags. The notice of allegations did not reference McDonald’s bags, but did reference $225 of McDonald’s food being provided from March 30-April 1, 2019, as an impermissible benefit for a recruit and his mother. It also referred to impermissible Chick-fil-A meals as part of a recruiting visit in May 2019.
The $300 was among an alleged $12,707 in impermissible benefits allegedly provided to a former Tennessee player and his family during his recruitment and while he was enrolled at Tennessee, according to the details of the second of UT’s 18 listed violations.
The findings also claim that Pruitt also gave the player’s mother $3,000 on Jan. 9, 2019, to assist “with paying a delinquent medical bill so she could schedule a hip surgery.” The woman shared the details during an April 15, 2021, interview after she was granted limited immunity at the request of the NCAA enforcement staff. She stated she shared with Pruitt during a visit to Knoxville about the need for a second hip surgery, but she could not schedule it due to debt for her prior hip surgery.
The document says “Pruitt asked her to stop by his office before leaving Knoxville, where he gave her an envelope containing $3,000 cash.” Pruitt denied providing the $3,000 in his March 7, 2022, interview. The woman provided her bank records showing a $5,100 deposit on Jan. 11, 2019, and UT’s findings declared there was enough evidence and testimony to prove Pruitt’s payment occurred.
The university discovered the violations involving the player and his mother in December 2020.
UT disputed parts of five of the 18 violations, while it outright disputed that Tennessee had failed to monitor the football program while recruiting violations were committed under Pruitt. The university said Pruitt, his wife and his staff knowingly concealed their malfeasance despite UT’s best efforts to follow NCAA rules in monitoring the football program. That was UT’s only major dispute in responding to the NCAA notice of allegations.
UT had minor disputes with five of the 18 Level 1 violations that the NCAA found during its investigation. Otherwise, it agreed generally that rules were broken and that almost $60,000 of cash or gifts were provided to players and their families by Pruitt, his wife and numerous coaches, recruiting staff and at least one booster.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.