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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt is threatening a lawsuit that claims widespread rules breaking throughout the athletic department during his time in Knoxville.

Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt gave the university an ultimatum earlier this month to either reach a settlement by Oct. 29 or face a lawsuit that would reportedly hinder the school's athletic department in the years ahead.

Michael Lyons, the attorney representing Pruitt, told the USA Today Network on Tuesday that "this is the only choice they've left him with."

Tennessee fired Pruitt in January after an internal investigation revealed NCAA Level I and II violations he had committed along with defensive assistants Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer, who also were terminated. By firing Pruitt with cause, Pruitt was unable to collect any of his $12.6 million buyout.

The Lyons-led lawsuit, according to the USA Today Network, would "aim to embarrass the university and unmask widespread rule-breaking behavior that extends above and beyond Pruitt's football staff."

Volunteers basketball coach Rick Barnes responded to Pruitt's claims through a statement Tuesday night to ESPN.

"I'm really disappointed that Jeremy would throw people's names around that he knows did nothing but support him the entire time he was here and make these unsubstantiated claims," Barnes said. "I would invite the NCAA to come in any day of the week and investigate our program.

"Jeremy is not here because of the decisions he made and the way he led his program."

Former Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who hired Pruitt in December 2017, also weighed in by telling ESPN: "Jeremy has no one to blame but himself for his firing from UT. He had a great opportunity at a great university, and he simply screwed it up."

Pruitt was 16-19 during his three seasons as Tennessee's coach. His 2019 team went 8-5 and won the Gator Bowl over Indiana, but during his time with the Vols he went 0-9 against the trio of Alabama, Florida and Georgia with nine double-digit losses.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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