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How about an Employment 101 class for college coaches?

The $1.247 million judgment against basketball Coach Tubby Smith and the University of Minnesota makes me wonder if an Employment 101 class is needed in the world of college coaching.

This case is another reminder of how some college coaches and athletes seem to play/work in one world, and the rest of us work — or hope to work — in the real world.

In case you’ve missed the story, a Hennepin County jury on Wednesday found that Smith misrepresented in 2007 that he had the authority to hire Jimmy Williams as an assistant coach. At the time, Smith had just been hired at Minnesota.

Based on a phone conversation with Smith in spring 2007, Williams claimed he had a job offer and quit his job the next day at Oklahoma State University. A short while later, U Athletic Director Joel Maturi nixed the idea, citing Williams’ NCAA recruiting violations during his stint as a Gophers assistant coach in the 1970s and 1980s.

Having once covered workplace issues as a reporter for the Pioneer Press, I think an Employment 101 class for coaches might be needed, for several reasons:

• Even though the jury sided with Williams, I find it hard to believe that any managerial candidate in today’s uncertain world would think a job offer is a done deal until there’s something in writing. I certainly would not resign a six-figure coaching job and give up a three-year contract before I saw the new contract.

In an age of employment background checks rivaling those at Homeland Security, I find it difficult to fathom that a coach or any university department head would even hint that an offer is on the table until the screening is completed.   

• I don’t have Smith’s current salary immediately available, but last year his total package was $1.8 million — more than enough to cover the judgment. It’s also interesting that Williams originally sought damages of $1.6 million, according to one story I read. Another story said $1.7 million. Either way, the damage request is eerily close to the pay package of the University of Minnesota’s highest-paid employee.  

On Wednesday evening, the university issued a statement from General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, indicating that an appeal is under consideration. Here’s an excerpt:

“The extraordinary amount awarded is completely unjustified by the facts, and the university and Coach Smith will be considering a variety of post-trial options, including an appeal,” Rotenberg said. Here’s the full statement.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/27/2010 - 09:29 am.

    Oh boy-

    Jimmy sinned, as did Mark Dienhart, McKinley Boston, and a lot of other people in the athletic department over the years. “Let (she who is without sin…”

    Mark Dienhart, by the way, is AD at St. Thomas and Mack Boston is AD at New Mexico State.

    But this was a long time ago, and as was pointed out in the trial, the sins of people like John Calipari are apparently not enough to disbar him from a job coaching college basketball.

    So did Tubby know of Jimmy William’s past transgressions? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t. But Joel Maturi – for whom I admit having a soft spot in my heart – knew of the history and said no for, arguably, good reasons.

    But what are the effects of this decision? Jimmy Williams was left in the lurch. He has family in the Twin Cities and obviously enjoyed being at the U. No doubt his past success as a recruiter to the U of M – a difficult sell – made him attractive as a staff member.

    Given the ethics of big time college football and basketball hiring practices, Jimmy thought he had an offer and gave up his position and put his house up for sale. Please fairly note that it is not uncommon for people like Tubby Smith – and even J Robinson – to work without a signed written contract for long periods of time. Apparently the jury believed that Jimmy Williams had been offered a job.

    If the U admin had ‘fessed up and reasonably compensated Jimmy for the problems that this caused him, then perhaps they wouldn’t be facing a 1.2 million dollar settlement in addition to rather difficult to evaluate legal expenses. (And please don’t anyone say that it doesn’t matter because it is covered by insurance.)

    Some of this has to do with bad legal advice by our ace General Counsel, Mark Rotenberg…

    He’s the one who appealed, all the way up to the State Supreme Court, the violation of the open meeting law by the Board of Regents. He’s also the one who has foot-dragged on the double dipping situation at the U:

    Directly, or indirectly, these mistakes in legal strategy cost the University of Minnesota money that could be better spent. Rather than wasting more of the people’s money trying to prove that they didn’t do anything wrong, perhaps General Counsel Rotenberg should reflect on what this kind of stubbornness has done to the U in the past.

    It is time for the University of Minnesota to start paying attention to what University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks has claimed:

    “Everything we do at the University of Minnesota is out in the open.”

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/27/2010 - 09:44 am.

    Link correction for previous post:

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