Meet the culprits in Jeremy Pruitt's Tennessee football recruiting scandal

Here are the key people named in the NCAA report detailing its investigation into whether the Tennessee football program committed recruiting violations under coach Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired for cause by Chancellor Donde Plowman on Jan. 18, 2021.

The university fired Pruitt after conducting its own investigation into the allegations, and reported to the NCAA it had discovered evidence the football program had broken the rules.

By firing Pruitt for cause, Tennessee maintains it is not responsible for paying Pruitt the $12.6 million buyout stipulated by his contract. Additionally, the move signaled to the NCAA that the school acted swiftly and decisively when it uncovered violations, and therefore deserves leniency in any punishments handed down.

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WHAT'S NEXT: How Tennessee could avoid major sanctions from NCAA despite litany of rules violations

Jeremy Pruitt, fired Vols football coach

Pruitt coached UT from 2018-21, posting a 16-19 record before he was fired after his third season.

UT declined to pay Pruitt’s $12.6 million buyout. His lawyer, Michael Lyons, threatened to sue the university and alluded to exposing other rules infractions if UT doesn't settle with his client and pay some of the vacated buyout. But there's no indication Lyons has filed a lawsuit.

Pruitt spent the 2021 season as a senior defensive analyst with the New York Giants. But he was not retained after coach Joe Judge was fired.

Pruitt is mentioned throughout the NCAA report, including allegations he provided cash payments to some players for living expenses.

Most notably, the investigation found that he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in the football program and monitor staff, which encompasses all 18 violations.

Casey Pruitt, wife of fired Vols football coach Jeremy Pruitt

In allegations that surely will draw intense interest, the NCAA says Pruitt's wife, Casey,  provided $12,500 in cash car payments – 25 payments of $500 each – and $3,000 in cash rent payments for a player and his mother from September 2018 to March 2021. The gifts began during the prospect’s recruitment and continued after he enrolled and played for the Vols.

That represented most of the $23,260 in cash and gifts given to the player by Jeremy Pruitt and Casey Pruitt, assistant coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer and staffer Bethany Gunn. The remainder included hotel stays, meals, entertainment, team apparel and gameday parking.

Notably, Casey Pruitt worked in Florida State’s NCAA compliance office in 2013 when she met Jeremy Pruitt, then the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator. She was tasked with verifying players’ eligibility and ensuring the athletics department followed NCAA rules. She also worked in Troy’s compliance office.

"I love talking and getting to meet people and forming relationships with them," Casey Pruitt told Knox News in a September 2018 interview. "Every school that we have been to, we have built relationships with the recruits, those that signed with us and those that didn't sign with us. That's one of the parts I love about the job is the role I get to play in recruiting."

Drew Hughes, former director of player personnel

Drew Hughes left Tennessee before the recruiting allegations were public. He was named South Carolina's director of player personnel on Feb. 14, 2020, and now enters his second season as Jacksonville Jaguars players personnel coordinator.

Hughes, who served in the same role for the Vols, is named by the NCAA in allegations of three Level I violations, the most serious in the NCAA’s four-level infractions structure.

The NCAA says Hughes helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation, gameday parking and team apparel to recruits.

Additionally, the NCAA says Hughes knew he was violating the rules, lied about it to investigators and influenced others to do so, as well.

“It’s important for us to get on the right guy,” Hughes told the Knoxville Quarterback Club in November 2019. “I think that’s one of the biggest things we do. We’re not the NFL. We don’t have draft picks. We actually have to find the right guys and then we have to recruit them and persuade them to come to our school. That’s something we have to continue to get better at every day."

Brian Niedermeyer, fired Vols inside linebackers coach

Tennessee tight end coach Brian Niedermeyer coaches during Tennessee spring football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tennessee on Thursday, March 28, 2019.
Tennessee tight end coach Brian Niedermeyer coaches during Tennessee spring football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tennessee on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Tennessee fired Niedermeyer and six others along with Pruitt in January 2021. He is now the defensive coordinator at IMG Academy, a high school powerhouse, in Florida.

When Pruitt, the Alabama defensive coordinator, was tabbed the Tennessee coach in 2018, he hired Niedermeyer as his tight ends coach. After two seasons in that role, he moved to inside linebackers coach.

He was named national recruiter of the year by 247Sports and ESPN in 2019.

Niedermeyer is named by the NCAA in allegations of four Level I violations.

The NCAA says Niedermeyer helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation, gameday parking and team apparel to recruits. At least four of the recruits ended up playing at Tennessee.

Niedermeyer also paid the recruit $750 cash at his high school, the NCAA says, provided more gifts during an unofficial visit and accompanied the recruit and his family on a flight to Knoxville for an official visit. The recruit did not enroll at Tennessee.

He also provided cash payments to some players for living expenses, the NCAA says.

Additionally, the NCAA says Niedermeyer knew he was violating the rules, lied about it to investigators and influenced others to do so.

Derrick Ansley, former Vols defensive coordinator

Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley watches warmups before the game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley watches warmups before the game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Ansley was hired by the San Diego Chargers as defensive backs coach less than two weeks after Pruitt was fired in January 2021.

Ansley became the first Black defensive coordinator in Tennessee football history after coaching defensive backs under Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Ansley previously coached defensive backs at UT, Kentucky and Alabama.

Ansley is named by the NCAA in allegations of two Level I violations.

The NCAA says Ansley helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation and team apparel to recruits. Nine of the recruits enrolled at Tennessee, including six who played in games for the Vols.

Shelton Felton, fired Vols outside linebackers coach

Outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton coaches during football practice at the University of Tennessee on March 10, 2020.
Outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton coaches during football practice at the University of Tennessee on March 10, 2020.

Tennessee fired Felton and six others along with Pruitt in January 2021. He is now coach of Valdosta High School in Georgia, one of the most successful programs in the nation.

Pruitt hired Felton as a quality control analyst in 2018. Felton left to coach linebackers and defensive line at Akron for one season, then returned to Pruitt's program in 2020 as outside linebackers coach.

Felton is named by the NCAA in allegations of four Level I violations.

The NCAA says Felton helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation, gameday parking and team apparel to recruits. Nine of the recruits enrolled at Tennessee, including six who played in games for the Vols.

Additionally, the NCAA says Felton knew he was violating the rules, lied about it to investigators and influenced others to do so, as well.

In November 2021, Felton told Knox News he was happy where he landed.

“I am a high school coach at heart,” Felton said. “I love kids. Helping kids and promoting kids is what I do.”

Bethany Gunn, fired Vols director of recruiting

Tennessee fired Gunn and six others along with Pruitt in January 2021. She no longer works in athletics.

The Vols hired Gunn in 2018. She previously worked as a recruiting coordinator at Auburn University, where she graduated with a degree in public administration in 2015.

Gunn is named by the NCAA in allegations of nine Level I violations.

The NCAA says Gunn helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation, gameday parking, team apparel, furniture and household items to recruits. At least six of the recruits ended up playing at Tennessee.

Gunn also provided cash payments to some players for living expenses, the NCAA says.

Additionally, the NCAA says Gunn knew she was violating the rules, lied about it to investigators and influenced others to do so.

Chantryce Boone, fired Vols assistant director of recruiting

Tennessee fired Boone and six others along with Pruitt in January 2021. She now works a marketing job in Georgia not associated with athletics.

The Vols hired Boone in 2019. She previously worked as a student athletic recruiter while attending UT, a job that included work planning "official and unofficial visits, including game day activities" for "prospective athletes and their families," according to her LinkedIn profile.

Boone is named by the NCAA in allegations of four Level I violations.

The NCAA says Boone helped arrange to give thousands of dollars in cash, hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation, gameday parking, team apparel, furniture and household items to recruits. At least four of the recruits ended up playing at Tennessee.

Boone also provided cash payments to some players for living expenses, the NCAA says.

Additionally, the NCAA says Boone knew she was violating the rules, lied about it to investigators and influenced others to do so, as well.

Unnamed UT donor/booster

An unnamed booster is referenced in one allegation, along with Jeremy Pruitt, Gunn and Boone. The NCAA says the booster arranged or provided a player $12,707 in hotel stays, meals, air fare and other transportation, gameday parking, furniture and household items from October 2018 to December 2020

The recruit played for the Vols.

Unnamed student football recruiting assistant

An unnamed student football recruiting assistant is referenced in three allegations that the person provided hotel stays, meals, entertainment, transportation and team apparel to recruits, and cash payments for living expenses to players.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Jeremy Pruitt Tennessee football recruiting scandal: Meet the culprits