Austin Thomas not joining Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee after all

New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks at his introduction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks at his introduction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's search for a football head coach is over, but the complicated storylines are not done just yet.

After he reportedly resigned at LSU last week in anticipation of joining Jeremy Pruitt's staff at Tennessee, Austin Thomas will not be returning to his home state after all, according to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated.

Thomas, 31, has been at LSU for five seasons, serving most recently as the program's general manager. That position "leads the way in the oversight and management of the entire LSU football program," according to Thomas' bio on the LSU athletics website.

Feldman, citing a source, reported Sunday that it was "just not the right fit and timing" for Thomas to come to Tennessee.

Thomas, originally from Franklin, earned a master's degree in sports management at Tennessee while serving as a recruiting intern for the Volunteers and then as a defensive assistant for the 2009 team. He spent time on staffs at Southern California and Bowling Green before accepting a job at LSU under Les Miles and rising to the general manager title under Ed Orgeron last year. Thomas is regarded as a skilled recruiter.

Pruitt's Tennessee staff has yet to be announced, even as college football's first-ever early signing period approaches. High school seniors can sign with schools Wednesday through Friday of this week.

DL Harris picks Vols

Defensive lineman Kingston Harris of Bradenton, Fla., announced his commitment to Tennessee on Monday. The three-star prospect from IMG Academy announced his commitment through Twitter.

"Looking forward to working with Coach Pruitt and the new coaching staff," Harris wrote. "Ready to help bring a national championship back to the University of Tennessee and the fans."

Spognardi details revealed

A report from the state comptroller's office addressed to University of Tennessee administrators on Monday detailed how Chris Spognardi, a former football support staff employee, misused cash advances that were intended to be spent on things like meals for the football team.

Spognardi, 32, was the director of football operations under former Tennessee coach Butch Jones until 2016. Spognardi pleaded guilty last week to a charge of official misconduct in Knox County Criminal Court.

The comptroller's investigation revealed that Spognardi "provided fabricated or altered documentation to account for at least $14,085 in travel- related cash advances entrusted to him by the UT Athletics Department" from September 2015 to January 2016.

One example the investigation highlighted shows two invoices from a barbecue restaurant in Columbia, Mo., that catered a meal for the football team. Spognardi had been provided a cash advance that covered the meal, and the invoice he later provided showed the catered meal cost $2,721.60.

But a copy of the authentic invoice published in the comptroller's investigation showed that the total bill was just $2,071.60.

The investigation found six such invoices that had been "completely fabricated" by Spognardi. They accounted for nearly $6,000 and were among the primary tools he used in his scheme, according to the report.

Spognardi was placed on administrative leave in August 2016 and eventually fired. He had worked with Jones for a decade, first at Central Michigan and then at Cincinnati, before joining the Tennessee staff.

The comptroller's investigative report was addressed to UT system president Joe DiPietro, university chancellor Beverly Davenport and athletic director Phillip Fulmer.

It noted that athletic department officials indicated they have "established new practices and procedures" to correct the issues detailed in the report.

Tom Satkowiak, UT's assistant athletic director for media relations, released a statement Monday regarding the issue.

"The university has been notified of the results from a report issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury," the statement read. "The report centers on the isolated misconduct of a former administrative employee in the fall of 2015 through January 2016. While unacceptable, the incidents contained in the report have led to many process improvements to increase accountability, mitigate risk and ensure compliance moving forward."

Contact David Cobb at

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