The Tennessee Vols played their final game of the 2020 season on Saturday — a 34-13 loss to Texas A&M — but that’s not the story that’s dominating headlines.
Shortly after kickoff on Saturday, Fox Sports Knoxville’s Trey Wallace published a story that contained a report detailing an ongoing investigation at Tennessee.
According to Wallace, the investigation centers around violations that allegedly include players recruited to Tennessee and current players.
Prior to the Texas A&M game on Saturday, it was announced that Brian Maurer and Eric Gray would not be available. Their absence was due to the investigation.
(Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley and running backs coach Jay Graham also missed the Texas A&M game, but their absences were COVID related.)
Linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer is heavily involved in the investigation. In fact, based on what we’ve heard from various sources, it sounds like there’s no way he can survive this investigation.
So where do the Vols go from here?
Well, based on everything we’re hearing at A to Z Sports, there are essentially two ways this investigation can play out for Tennessee.
There’s a lot of information flying around behind the scenes right now. And it’s not exactly black and white. But from people we’ve spoken with, it certainly sounds like Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt could be fired with cause if the program wanted to go down that road. Pruitt wasn’t named in Wallace’s report. And it’s possible that Pruitt is distanced enough from the violations to survive all this. But he’s also a head coach that was already facing questions about his future at Tennessee. A head coach who finishes the season 7-3 stands a better chance of surviving something like this than a head coach who finishes 3-7.
Do the Vols want to go down this road just to avoid a buyout? It certainly feels like that’s a possibility, based on the origin of the investigation.
However, if Tennessee fires Pruitt with cause, he’s likely going to fight for his buyout (and who wouldn’t?). It could get ugly. It could also scare off potential head coaches from engaging in serious talks with the Vols.
Fire Brian Niedermeyer and make him the fall guy for everything.
It’s that simple.
Niedermeyer is done at Tennessee. The writing has been on the wall for over a month.
And that’s not a major loss for the Vols — he hasn’t been a very good linebackers coach this season. Niedermeyer’s recruiting prowess was the biggest asset he brought to Tennessee.
If he’s involved in a recruiting scandal, it makes you wonder how good of a recruiter he really was.
Tennessee could put this all on Niedermeyer and Pruitt could survive that way. Or they could put it all on Niedermeyer, still fire Pruitt (maybe negotiate a lesser buyout) and take the program in another direction.
One of these two options is very likely going to come to fruition. Which one? I don’t think Tennessee knows yet what they’re going to do.
But I doubt it takes long for something big to happen on Rocky Top.
Featured image via Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK