Tennessee launches compliance inquiry into football program's recruiting practices, sources say

Tennessee's compliance department has launched an inquiry into recruiting practices within the Volunteers' football program, sources told ESPN on Saturday.

Compliance department officials have interviewed current players, recruits, assistant coaches, student volunteers and other athletics department officials involved in football recruiting. The sources said the interviews started in November.

WKGN-AM in Knoxville, Tennessee, first reported the compliance inquiry. The station also reported on Saturday that the NCAA had launched an investigation into the Volunteers' recruiting.

Sources told ESPN that they weren't sure whether NCAA officials had interviewed UT student-athletes and coaches, or whether the university had turned over potential violations to the NCAA.

Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt was asked about the investigation after the Volunteers' 34-13 loss to No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday.

"I hadn't seen no article or anything like that," Pruitt told reporters. "Anytime in college football or college athletics, you have typical compliance stuff. That is all I know."

The sources told ESPN that Tennessee's recruitment of Amarius Mims of Cochran, Georgia, the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 19 player overall in the ESPN 300, is part of the compliance department's inquiry. Mims signed with Georgia this week.

Sophomore tailback Eric Gray, the team's leading rusher with 772 yards with four touchdowns, was also held out of the Texas A&M game for undisclosed reasons. Sources told ESPN that Gray's absence was related to the compliance inquiry.

Pruitt wouldn't explain why Gray didn't play.

"He was unavailable," Pruitt said.

"In keeping with our institutional commitment to compliance, we often look closely at regulatory issues that are brought to our attention via internal or external channels. Maintaining compliance is a shared responsibility, and active monitoring is part of that process," athletic department spokesperson Tom Satkowiak said in a statement.

The loss to the Aggies dropped Tennessee's record to 3-7. The Volunteers won their first two games this season, extending their winning streak to eight straight dating to last season, before losing seven of their last eight games.

Pruitt is 16-19 in three seasons at Tennessee. In September, the Volunteers rewarded him with a two-year contract extension that boosted his annual salary to $4.2 million. The contract runs through the 2025 season. If Tennessee were to fire Pruitt without cause, it would owe him a buyout of about $12.8 million.

On Saturday, Pruitt was asked whether he believed he would be UT's coach in 2021.

"Yeah, I think absolutely," Pruitt said. "I get it, 3-7 is not where we want to be. ... We have a lot of really young players. Most of our team will be back. I think it is a very good indication of how they compete every week. These guys don't quit. They believe in what we are doing and they understand that we are not that far away. A lot of these guys, I think they choose to try to be part of the solution, not the problem."