UK settles with Gillispie for $2.98 million

UK, FORMER COACH SETTLE CONTRACT DISPUTE

ralessi@herald-leader.comOctober 13, 2009 

The University of Kentucky and the UK Athletic Association late Tuesday agreed to pay former UK men’s basketball coach Billy Clyde Gillispie nearly $3 million plus attorneys’ fees to settle a contract dispute.

The settlement puts an end to the legal saga that featured lawsuits filed on both sides in two states and threatened to multiply what were already hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Gillispie was seeking more than $6 million for breach of contract and fraud related to his firing in March, which came two years into a seven-year agreement.

“The coach is glad that the matter is resolved. Now he can focus on getting a job coaching college basketball again,” said Demetrios Anaipakos, Gillispie’s Texas-based lawyer. “Coach had never sued anyone and didn’t relish the thought of suing the University of Kentucky Athletics Association.”

But after negotiations for a buyout broke down this spring, Gillispie felt compelled to sue, he said.

Anaipakos said the $2.98 million settlement, plus the $265,000 in Gillispie’s attorneys’ fees and mediation costs was “several times” more than UK’s initial offers to the ex-coach . UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart fired Gillispie on March 27, saying he was not a “good fit” at the school.

The university has to make the payments within 15 days, according to the settlement.

Gillispie filed the initial suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Dallas in May. UK responded with a countersuit in Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort, arguing, among other things, that Gillispie had no business suing the UK Athletics Association because he was an employee of the university at large.

A university statement announcing the agreement Tuesday called it “a fair and final settlement.” But UK officials “will have no further comment on the settlement agreement,” the statement said.

In addition to the money, the settlement calls for Gillispie to release the university from any and all future claims. Both UK officials and the former coach agreed not to make “derogatory or detrimental” comments about each other.

“He has absolutely no animosity toward the university or any of its people,” Anaipakos said of Gillispie.

Negotiations over buying out Gillispie’s contract had dragged on over the last few months, but picked up steam after Gillispie’s team scheduled depositions with UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. and Barnhart in preparation for the next round of court filings. They were due later this month in federal court in Dallas.

“As the legal proceedings got more developed, including those depositions, the discussions seemed to get more serious,” Anaipakos said. “I certainly thought we were going to have to dig in our heels a little bit, at least early on, to show we had the resolve to see this through to the end.”

Still, Anaipakos said the decision to settle was difficult because Gillispie strongly believed he had lived up to his end of the hiring agreement and should have been paid a $6 million buyout.

UK officials, however, contended that Gillispie didn’t qualify for a buyout after being fired because he was operating on a year-by-year agreement governed by a memo of understanding — not a formal contract. During Gillispie’s tenure at UK, the two sides never agreed on a couple of key contract clauses, most notably the conditions for which Gillispie could have been fired with cause.

In the end, Anaipakos said, Gillispie weighed the prospect of mounting legal fees during what could have been a two-year court battle against the settlement.

“I think he’s been vindicated by the fact that he got a deal that he can now live with,” Anaipakos said.

Luther Deaton, a Lexington banker and member of the UK Athletics Association Board, said he considered it “a fair settlement on both sides.”

“Its better to settle something and move on than run up attorney fees,” he said.

The university hired Lexington firm Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney. It’s unclear how much UK will pay in related legal bills.

Gillispie owed $194,700 to Anaipakos’ firm and more than $70,000 to two Kentucky firms, a mediator and his agent, which will be covered by UK in the settlement.

UK officials fired Gillispie days after the Wildcats ended their season with a quarter-final loss in the National Invitational Tournament. Gillispie, a former Texas A&M coach, compiled a 40-27 record at UK.

UK then lured John Calipari away from the University of Memphis with an eight-year, $31.65 million contract — the richest in college basketball. Calipari has since added to the team several heralded recruits.

Gillispie wishes the team well, Anaipakos said.

“He thinks that the basketball team should be really good this year,” Anaipakos said. “And I know he’ll be wishing them success.”

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