The Tennessee Vols received their notice of allegations from the NCAA last week related to the recruiting investigation that started under former head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

According to several reports, the allegations revealed that Tennessee handed out over $60,000 in impermissible benefits to recruits/players. Pruitt and his wife allegedly delivered many of those benefits personally.

As you can imagine, there were plenty of folks in the national media that have chosen to take some shots at Pruitt and Tennessee.

Pruitt certainly deserves some criticism for recklessly breaking NCAA rules. Between the investigation and his dismal 16-19 record, there’s no denying that Pruitt was a disastrous hire for the Vols.

But there’s a story within this NCAA investigation that I think a lot of folks — Tennessee fans and national media included — are missing.

Tennessee Vols Jeremy Pruitt
Oct 5, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt on the sidelines during a game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the money/benefits that Pruitt and his wife allegedly gave to recruits/players, you’ll notice a theme.

Pruitt was helping these kids and their families. This wasn’t a bunch of cash thrown at recruits to convince them to come to Tennessee. Sure, Pruitt was recruiting them and that was the end goal of course. But Pruitt and his staff weren’t throwing around ridiculous amounts of money.

This money was spent on medical bills, rent, car payments, hotel rooms that families couldn’t afford, food, etc.

Pruitt was a terrible head coach. He had no clue how to manage a program. But I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Quite the opposite actually. During his entire tenure at Tennessee, he always put the players first. Pruitt did right by players — even if they wanted to leave Tennessee or commit elsewhere. He didn’t block transfers and he kept a good relationship with players he recruited that landed with another program (and we saw some of those players end up transferring to Tennessee, like Aubrey Solomon).

I remember right after Pruitt was hired at UT — when he was still the defensive coordinator at Alabama — how he went over to Georgia’s sideline to console the players he had coached there after Bama beat the Bulldogs in the national championship game. Instead of celebrating, he was checking on the kids he had previously coached at Georgia. That said a lot about where Pruitt’s priorities lay.

In any other context, Pruitt would be viewed as a good person for helping out some kids and their families. But because the NCAA has archaic rules, he’s catching an insane amount of flack for what really amounts to a good deed.

The Vols are better off with Josh Heupel leading the program. I don’t think anyone doubts that. Tennessee needed to move on from Pruitt after the 2020 season regardless of the recruiting investigation.

But the narrative that Pruitt was this massive cheater just isn’t accurate. I can assure you that there was way more than $60,000 being tossed around at other schools in the pre-NIL era.

Pruitt doesn’t deserve to be praised for his poor efforts as a head coach, but he shouldn’t be criticized for helping families, either.

Featured image via Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel, Knoxville News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services