15 more wild text messages in Tennessee NCAA scandal: Jeremy Pruitt 'doesn't want the (crappy) players'

Fired coach Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee football staff cracked jokes about him and his assistants in text messages during their recruiting scheme.
Recruits asked staffers to get them fake IDs to get into bars and fill out their university admission forms. A player's mom asked for tuxedo measurements.
And a staffer said Pruitt didn’t want “shitty” recruits at Neyland Stadium for a Vols game.
Knox News reviewed approximately 6,000 text messages from Pruitt’s staff obtained through an open records request. They were used in the NCAA investigation that led to Pruitt and eight staff members receiving multiyear show-cause penalties and UT getting five years probation.
Knox News previously revealed 12 text messages that played a part in the NCAA infractions case. This installment features text messages that reveal what went on behind the scenes of Pruitt’s program.
Some are funny. Others are cringey. Here are some of the most eye-opening text messages.
‘Pruitt and the mask’
During the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, coaches weren't always the model for how to wear a mask on the sideline. Perhaps none did it in a stranger fashion than Pruitt, and it amused his staff.
“Send me the pic you seen earlier of Pruitt and the mask,” assistant recruiting director Chantryce Boone said to recruiting director Bethany Gunn in a text message in October 2020.
In UT games against Missouri and Georgia, Pruitt wore an orange-and-white checkerboard neck gaiter over his head and neck, but it did not always cover his mouth and nose.
The SEC fined UT $100,000 because Pruitt did not comply with the conference’s COVID mask policy. And Pruitt admitted, “I wore my mask wrong.”
Where can we get fake IDs?
In October 2020, a recruit asked Gunn and Boone for three fake IDs for him and his companions to get into bars during his impermissible recruiting trip to Knoxville. At first, Gunn and Boone didn’t help.
“Oh lord,” Boone said. “There is no way.”
Then they started to look for solutions. Boone suggested they think of some UT players that looked like the recruits, so they could borrow their IDs.
“We need to know what (the recruit and his companions) look like so we can get close to figuring out who we should get them from,” Gunn said.
‘Niedermeyer is fired’
On Aug. 15, 2020, Pruitt’s staff and his wife, Casey Pruitt, arranged for a recruit’s mother and other family members to visit Knoxville and get perks against NCAA rules. They got free restaurant meals, drinks, nail salontreatments and a meeting with a local real estate agent to look for a Knoxville rental home.
It was a full itinerary, and the real estate agent cleared space in her schedule to accommodate the recruit’s family.
It was the job of assistant coach Brian Niedermeyer to keep everything on schedule. But the family was hours late arriving and the real estate meeting was pushed back numerous times.
“This is too much,” Boone said to Gunn. “Niedermeyer is fired.”
Of course, she meant that Niedermeyer should be fired because he couldn't keep the illicit recruiting trip on schedule. Five months later, Niedermeyer was fired for those actions because they broke NCAA rules.
Apply to college for me
In October 2020, there was a headshaking text exchange between Boone and a recruit who either didn’t know how to apply to UT or didn’t want to learn. So he made excuses and asked Boone to do it for him.
Boone told the recruit that “your test scores are great! If you could apply today!”
Then she reminded him again to submit his application.
The recruit replied, “Can you do it for me my phone tripping.”
Boone didn’t fall for his excuse. Most college applications involve a transcript, test scores, recommendations, fees and more. And they can't be completed in minutes on a smart phone.
“THERE IS NO WAY TO APPLY TO COLLEGE ON YOUR PHONE!!!,” Boone told the recruit. “How are you applying on your phone, you gotta upload test scores!!!”
He replied, “How I do that. Jus [sic] do it for me.”
Boone, a 2019 UT graduate, told the recruit that he was on his own.
“I haven’t applied to college since 2014,” she said, “sweetie I am no help.”
Pruitt ‘doesn’t want shitty players’
College coaches make sure all recruits feel like they’re a priority. They need to keep their options open.
But the truth is that five-star and four-star recruits are coveted, and some three-star recruits are backup plans. Many of the remaining recruits are invited to fill space, accompany prized recruits and help the staff build relationships with their high school coaches.
Before UT’s home game against Missouri in 2018, recruiting staff discussed Pruitt being picky about which recruits visited that weekend.
“(It is) very tight and we could only make exceptions for elite players,” director of player personnel Drew Hughes said to Gunn.
“Pruitt reiterates he doesn’t want shitty players at this game.”
It’s plausible that Pruitt wanted his coaches giving extra attention to only a few recruits, especially when considering who attended that game.
Five-star linebackers Travon Walker and Nolan Smith took official visits to UT that weekend, 247Sports reported. They ending up signing with Georgia and served as anchors on the Bulldogs' national championship defenses.
Walker was the No. 1 pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Smith went No. 30 to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2023.
‘Linebackers trippin right now’
Fans aren’t the only ones to criticize coaches during a game.
During UT’s 44-21 loss to Georgia in 2020, recruiting staffers shared their frustration over how poorly some players were playing.
“Linebackers trippin right now,” Gunn said to Boone.
They identified a player who apparently missed a critical tackle, but his name was redacted.
Then Boone did what many fans do. She blamed their position coach, Shelton Felton. And she even suggested that she could do a better job.
“Imma give them they Monday pep talk cause apparently Felton not saying what he need to say,” Boone said.
Peyton Manning gaffe or autocorrect?
A recruiting staffer either committed a major faux pas or was a victim of autocorrect.
In August 2020, Gunn and Niedermeyer were exchanging texts about an impermissible recruiting visit they quietly were pulling off during the COVID recruiting dead period.
On a busy morning with recruits in Knoxville, Niedermeyer was trying to locate Gunn in the football facility.
“Are you here?” Niedermeyer asked.
Gunn replied three times in 44 seconds: “Yea I came in … In Pruitt manning … Payton manning.”
Gunn was trying to say that she was in the Peyton Manning Room, which features trophies, jerseys and memorabilia from the former UT star quarterback’s career.
Perhaps she misspelled Manning’s name because she was in a hurry or her phone autocorrected to “Payton.” His name appears everywhere in UT facilities, so give her the benefit of the doubt.
He needs something to wear to prom
Some recruits graduate high school a semester early and enroll at UT in January. But they still return home to participate in senior class events at their high school during their first semester of college.
In April 2019, the mother of an early enrollee sought permission from Pruitt for her son to attend his high school prom. She also asked Gunn to get her son’s measurements for a tuxedo or suit.
“Trying to do all this long distance but do you have anyone that can measure,” the mother said to Gunn. “Trying to get him fitted for something to wear.”
It appeared Gunn successfully got the players’ measurements for his prom outfit. That’s one of the many tasks she did besides managing recruiting visits.
LeBron James and Joey from ‘Friends’
Ever wonder how coaches really react to recruits committing to their school? Sometimes it’s exactly like fans do on social media – with GIFs.
In October 2020, a UT player was hosting a recruit on an impermissible visit. Felton asked the player for a progress report.
The player had good news: “(The recruit) said he needs (UT) gear to commit in.”
Felton replied with a GIF that showed Joey from the TV show “Friends,” with his mouth wide open in a state of shock.
The player then replied with a GIF of LeBron James grinning with gratification. The mission was accomplished.
Almost got caught with recruit
On Aug. 16, 2020, a UT football student worker was pleading with a restaurant to hold a table for a few more minutes because a recruit and his family were running late.
It was Sunday brunch, and the restaurant was packed.
The student worker told Boone that the restaurant host was “lowkey mad” because they were holding a “fat table” and there was a two-hour waiting list for other customers to be seated.
To buy time, the student worker ordered cinnamon rolls for the table.
Finally, the recruit and his family arrived. But it was during dead period for recruiting, when UT football staffers were prohibited from having in-person contact with recruits. So the student worker who had held the table and ordered the food suddenly had to slip away as if they weren’t associated with the recruit.
“When I tell you this family dressed head to toe in UT football stuff,” the student worker said to Boone.
“Get out of there,” Boone replied. “We don’t need you involved.”
The student worker rushed to their car and tried not to draw attention in the crowded restaurant as the orange-clad family sat at the table.
Tell the recruit what he wants to hear
Players who play multiple positions in high school often choose a college because coaches agree to consider them at their preferred position.
During recruiting, some coaches will say what the recruit wants to hear to keep them interested. But once the recruit enrolls at the school, they’re moved to a more suitable position.
Granted, it’s often in the player’s best interests. But the practice has been common in college football for decades, and UT was doing it just like other programs.
On Oct. 26, 2019, Hughes shared notes with Gunn to prepare the staff for recruits visiting UT for a game against South Carolina. His text instructed the staff to communicate with coaches and assist recruits’ families with parking.
Hughes also told the staffers what they should say to a specific recruit: “We love you at multiple positions – including QB.”
And Hughes added, “No one needs to bring up (that topic) – this is just FYI.”
The recruit’s name is redacted. But there’s a good chance it was Jimmy Holiday, who was on an official visit to UT that weekend.
Holiday changed his commitment from TCU to UT in December 2019. That happened after offensive coordinator Jim Chaney visited Holiday’s home and presented an 18-page plan for how the Vols would use him at quarterback.
Holiday enrolled early at UT in January, worked at quarterback in two practices in March before COVID shut down spring sports. When practice resumed in August, Holiday was moved permanently to wide receiver.
Pruitt said it was “something (Holiday) wanted to do.”
Holiday played three seasons at wide receiver, including the past two under Josh Heupel. In January, he transferred to Western Kentucky.
That text was meant for mom
In June 2019, coaches asked a UT player to host a recruit. The player agreed, and Gunn supplied him with cash to pay for food and entertainment.
The player then sent a text to Gunn: “I might not be able to talk tonight cuz I gotta host a recruit.”
Gunn, puzzled, said: “Did you mean to send that to me.”
“No I meant to send that to my mom,” the player replied.
Apparently, the impermissible recruiting visit kept a player from making a scheduled phone call to his mother.
Recruiting being run through Apple Watch
The number of text messages between Boone, Gunn and other recruiting staffers is staggering.
Investigators reviewed approximately 200,000 pages of text messages. Many of them were sent in bursts, as staff and coaches kept close tabs on what recruits were doing throughout their impermissible visits.
In one weekend in August 2020, Felton sent countless text messages and made 81 phone calls to coaches and recruiting staff.
It’s no wonder that at one point Gunn had technical issues with her phone. But she still had to keep up the constant updates.
Boone told Felton, “FYI. Bethany phone isn’t working, she is answering through her Apple Watch.”
Felton didn’t care. He replied, “I need Bethany to call me.”
‘Home boy … can sleep on floor’
Recruits often added people to their traveling party when UT paid their expenses during impermissible visits. And recruiting staff admitted in texts that they had no way to contain the growing numbers.
During one text exchange, Gunn asked a recruit if she needed to make room for a recruit’s cousin. He replied that he instead needed space for “me and my friend and then home boy.”
Gunn told the recruit that only rooms with king beds were available.
“Home boy have to share a bed Friday orrrrr catch the floor Lolol,” Gunn said.
The recruit didn’t mind his companion tagging along, but not enough to share a bed with him.
He told Gunn that “home boy … can sleep on floor.”
‘RIP trampoline’
Pruitt’s staff paid for recruits’ entertainment during their impermissible visits. Bowling, arcades, paintball and escape rooms were among their regular stops.
But to the staff’s surprise, recruits loved to go to trampoline parks. Those venues are for all ages, but they’re usually more popular with younger kids.
In August 2020, Boone couldn’t help but laugh when she thought about big-body recruits bouncing for hours.
“Lol y’all big asses going to a trampoline park,” Boone said to one recruit. “Please send a video of y’all big asses jumping.”
Recruits frequented multiple trampoline parks in the Knoxville area. Two months later, a student worker told Boone that one of them had “closed forever.”
Boone lamented its closure: “RIP trampoline.”

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