UK's initial $925,000 offer to Gillispie hastened lawsuit

ralessi@herald-leader.comOctober 16, 2009 

Weeks after firing men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie, the University of Kentucky's lawyers proposed giving him a $925,000 buyout — an offer that was far enough from what Gillispie sought that it set off five months of legal wrangling.

Demetrios Anaipakos, Gillispie's Texas-based attorney, said Thursday that Gillispie had wanted to negotiate but that the tone and substance of UK's offer, which came in a May 1 letter from the university's outside counsel, showed that the gulf between two sides was too wide.

"The fact is that Coach Gillispie only received one offer before filing suit. The offer was for $925,000, and the offer had a deadline of 10 days later," he said. "When faced with that offer, Coach Gillispie determined the best course of action for him was to file suit."

Gillispie sued the UK Athletics Association in federal court in Texas for breach of contract on May 27, two months after UK officials fired him for not being "a good fit." On Tuesday, Gillispie and UK settled that suit and the university's countersuit.

Gillispie will receive $3.25 million, which includes $265,000 to cover his legal bills, from the UK Athletics Association budget.

The former coach had argued that he was entitled to a $6 million buyout as stipulated in his hiring agreement after he was fired two years into a seven-year term. UK, however, resisted because Gillispie and university officials never signed the coach's formal contract.

UK officials declined comment Thursday. Spokesman Jimmy Stanton referred to UK's statement from Tuesday, which called the settlement "fair and final."

Anaipakos said the settlement, which more than tripled the amount of UK's initial offer, "vindicates" Gillispie's decision to sue.

And the disclosure of UK's $925,000 offer puts to rest rumors that Gillispie had "been offered millions of dollars before the suit was filed or ... some other very lucrative package," Anaipakos said.

The $925,000 represented what Gillispie would have been paid in base salary if he had stayed two more years at UK.

Stuart Campbell, Gillispie's agent who represented him during the May buyout negotiations, said he couldn't remember what figure he sent UK as a counter offer.

"I may have come off on $6 million a little bit," said Campbell of the Tulsa, Okla.-based firm, Sneed Lang Herrold. "The only thing I remember was their $925,000 offer and it was just so low."

Anaipakos said the May 1 offer to Gillispie had an air of finality to it.

"The university suggested the availability of funds for immediate payment to Coach Gillispie would change if the offer was not accepted because the university operated on a fiscal year," Anaipakos said.

UK's letter gave Gillispie until May 11 to accept the offer. That was the same day the UK Athletics Association board approved its $72.65 million budget for 2009-2010, which was $10 million more than last year.

The increase in the budget covered the $3.7 million UK Athletics owes Gillipie's succesor, John Calipari, who signed the richest contract in college basketball on March 31, as well as a total of $1.7 million in general university scholarships. But it allotted just $100,000 for legal fees to settle the dispute with Gillispie.

Still, the UK Athletics Association is responsible for paying the $3.25 million settlement to Gillispie, said Stanton. The association is self supporting, largely through sports ticket sales and television revenue.

Calipari said Thursday the settlement was a good move for the university and Gillispie. "He's able to move on and it's not something hanging over some people here," he said.

Staff writer Jerry Tipton contributed to this report.

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