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Tennessee not extending contracts, pause hiring amid football investigation, sources say

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Tennessee football essentially on pause amid potential recruiting violations (1:16)

Adam Rittenberg breaks down the Tennessee football program's pause of operations amid possible recruiting violations under Jeremy Pruitt. (1:16)

Tennessee officials haven't extended the contracts of assistant football coaches and have paused hiring coaches for vacancies as the Volunteers continue to investigate whether recruiting violations occurred within the program, sources told ESPN on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the university announced it had hired attorneys Mike Glazier and Kyle Skillman to assist its in-house counsel and compliance officials in the internal investigation. The attorneys have interviewed current players this week about alleged improper benefits and other rules violations, sources told ESPN.

"We take seriously our institutional commitment to NCAA compliance, and are reviewing regulatory issues that have been brought to our attention," university spokeswoman Tyra Haag said in a statement this week. "As part of that process, we are currently working with attorneys Kyle Skillman and Michael Glazier with Bond, Schoeneck & King. We will provide additional information when it's appropriate."

Last month, ESPN reported that compliance department officials had 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.

The sources told ESPN that Tennessee's recruitment of Amarius Mims, the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 19 player overall in the 2021 ESPN 300, is part of the compliance department's inquiry. Mims signed with Georgia.

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

While Tennessee officials wait for the investigation to be completed, the athletics department hasn't renewed or extended the contracts of assistant coaches, some of whom have deals that expire at the end of this month, including wide receivers coach Tee Martin and inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer.

The Volunteers also have at least two vacancies after head coach Jeremy Pruitt fired defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh after four games and offensive line coach Will Friend left the team last month. A Tennessee official said Pruitt has talked to potential candidates and that the university has vetted them, but confirmed new coaches haven't been hired.

Pruitt, 46, has a 16-19 record with the Volunteers through three seasons. The Volunteers went 3-7 this season, losing seven of their last eight games.

After guiding the Volunteers to an 8-5 record in 2019, Pruitt was rewarded 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, or 60% of the remaining money owed under the deal.

Pruitt is scheduled to receive a $200,000 retention bonus on Feb. 15.

Under the terms of Pruitt's contract, if the university fires him with cause, he "shall not be entitled to further salary, compensation, benefits, perquisites, or any other athletically related income or benefits derived by virtue of Coach's position as Head Football Coach, from the University."

A handful of Tennessee's best players have left the program or announced plans to leave over the past few weeks, including junior cornerback Bryce Thompson (eight career interceptions), who entered the NFL draft earlier this week. Running back Ty Chandler and tight end Austin Pope are among eight players who have entered the transfer portal since December. Quarterback J.T. Shrout transferred to Colorado, and star defensive end Deandre Johnson transferred to Miami.