Four former Tennessee staffers under Jeremy Pruitt hit with show-cause penalties for violating NCAA rules

Four former Tennessee football staff members were given multiyear show-cause penalties by the NCAA for their roles in recruiting violations under former Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt, who hasn’t been penalized by the NCAA yet, and the school may still contest many of the allegations, meaning that their case remains open despite the partial negotiated settlements with the staff members, who admitted to the NCAA they broke recruiting rules.

The four staffers — identified by Sports Illustrated as insider linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, director of player personnel Drew Hughes and student assistant Michael Magness — acknowledged Level I violations involving cash payments, impermissible recruiting contact during the Covid-19 dead period and inducements. In total, Tennessee was accused of 18 Level I violations, the most serious infractions. 

Historically, the NCAA Committee on Infractions would hand down decisions involving all parties at the same time. However, the NCAA Transformation Committee recommended that the committee be able to more easily “bifurcate” cases when there are disparate stakeholders involved. The four aforementioned staffers were willing to negotiate an efficient settlement before Tennessee’s investigation came to a close. This is the third time that the NCAA has used multiple resolution paths. 

The NCAA’s notice of allegations, which was delivered in July 2022, alleged that Tennessee players received $60,000 from Pruitt, his wife and others associated with the program over the course of several years, including $15,000 of car and rent payments to one player. The violations were self-reported, but Tennessee has not reached a settlement with the NCAA. The Volunteers self-imposed penalties in response to the violations. 

Pruitt was fired in January 2021 amidst a swirling NCAA investigation into the program. He went 16-19 in three seasons, including two losing seasons. Niedermeyer and Felton were also fired, along with Hughes, Magness and a handful of other recruiting staffers. Later, defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley was also implicated. 

Citing the potential of NCAA sanctions, Tennessee opted to fire Pruitt for cause to avoid a buyout that would have approached $13 million. Pruitt was rumored for Alabama’s defensive coordinator position this offseason, but the role eventually went to former Pruitt assistant Kevin Steele as Pruitt awaits the resolution of his NCAA situation. 

None of the four individuals who agreed to show-causes are involved in college coaching. Hughes works as player personnel director for the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Felton and Niedermeyer have had stints coaching in high school. Magness works in sales. While show-cause orders don’t prevent individuals from working in college athletics, it typically provides a strong deterrent. 

After firing Pruitt, Tennessee hired UCF coach Josh Heupel. The Volunteers have posted an 18-8 record in two seasons, including a No. 6 finish in the final AP Top 25, Tennessee’s best season since 2001. 

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