Vols to honor contract of former interim Steele

The Tennessee Volunteers have notified former interim head football coach Kevin Steele that he will not be retained on Josh Heupel’s staff but will receive his full $900,000 salary over the next two years after less than two months on the job.

Steele was hired by Tennessee on Jan. 12 as a defensive assistant while Jeremy Pruitt was still the head coach and Phillip Fulmer was still the athletic director.

Sources told ESPN that university chancellor Donde Plowman personally signed off on the hiring of Steele. Six days later, Pruitt was fired for cause following an investigation that uncovered what Plowman called “serious violations of NCAA rules,” and Fulmer subsequently retired.

Steele, the former defensive coordinator at Auburn, was named Tennessee’s interim head coach on the day Pruitt was fired and served in that capacity until Heupel was hired nine days later on Jan. 27.

Heupel completed his coaching staff on Thursday with the announcement that Mike Ekeler would coach outside linebackers and special teams.

Steele’s $900,000 buyout would be mitigated if he lands another job. Tennessee is now on the hook for more than $10 million in buyouts and/or settlements following Pruitt’s ouster. Tennessee is paying Heupel’s $3.6 million buyout at UCF along with new athletic director Danny White’s $2.5 million buyout at UCF.

In addition, the university is paying Fulmer the remaining salary on his contract ($37,500 a month through the end of 2023), while fired assistants from Pruitt’s staff — Jim Chaney, Chris Weinke and Joe Osovet — had combined buyouts totaling more than $2 million, although that figure could decrease as those coaches get other jobs.

Of the Vols’ new assistant coaches, they paid a $450,000 buyout to get linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary from Michigan and a $62,500 buyout to get running backs coach Jerry Mack from Rice.

Tennessee is still resolving what it owes former assistant head coach/receivers coach Tee Martin, who took a job with the Baltimore Ravens as receivers coach. And while Tennessee fired Pruitt for cause and has no plans to pay his $12.6 million buyout, his attorneys have said they will fight that charge and attempt to collect the money he’s owed.

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