Former Oklahoma State assistant coach Jimmy Williams won his lawsuit against the University of Minnesota and head basketball coach Tubby Smith on Wednesday, with $1.25 million awarded to Williams as compensation for lost and presumptive wages. In 2007, Smith allegedly hired Williams as an assistant coach but the school then rescinded the offer after UM athletic director Joel Maturi alerted Smith to NCAA violations in Williams’ past. Thinking he was headed for Minnesota, Williams had resigned his post at Oklahoma State in the meantime — then found no job waiting on him on Smith’s staff. Williams then sued Smith and the school, feeling that Tubby had misrepresented himself in terms of his authority to hire Williams.
According to the cited AP story, Williams states that he hopes this victory means he can get back to coaching. We wonder if that’s really possible, at least at the level which he’d like. We’re thinking it might be tougher than Williams figures. If you’re a coach or athletics director, how enthusiastic would you be to hire a coach who has a history of suing other coaches and schools — especially one who had a hand in wrongly giving players financial help twenty years ago? And if you look at it from Tubby Smith’s point of view, this doesn’t appear to be that big of a loss. Sure, nobody likes forking over $1.25 million, but the reason Smith and Maturi didn’t want to bring Williams into the fold was because they simply didn’t want to hire anyone who had even a hint of NCAA violations in his past. Consider also that Williams’ wrongdoing happened back in the 1980s, while he was an assistant coach — at Minnesota. Tubby Smith is widely known as one of the great men in the game, a man who values his integrity and that of the program of which he’s at the helm far more than any dollar amount. If he (and his AD) felt that not hiring Williams — a man who has been slapped by the NCAA while working for the very school to which he’s re-applying — was the best thing for the UM program…well, that just might be worth $1.25 million.
Williams remarked that he hopes the win will vindicate him. But that’s not what this lawsuit was about. This was about whether or not Smith and Minnesota owed him the wages he lost after quitting his Oklahoma State job and the wages he would have made if he had been allowed to continue in his appointment at Minnesota. As far as vindication, this had nothing to do with Williams’ guilt or innocence in terms of those recruiting abnormalities back in the 80s. His culpability in those matters was decided upon long ago. If the jury felt like it had enough evidence to find that Tubby Smith misrepresented himself and/or that Minnesota really did officially hire Williams, and they were to blame for Williams’ lost wages, then they had no choice other than to rule in Williams’ favor. So, Williams may have won his lawsuit, but in addition to the question of impropriety he carries with him, he now has the reputation of a guy who sues coaches and schools for which he’s worked in the past. By not settling, Minnesota has told him, “Based on information we have, we’d rather risk losing a lawsuit and paying you over a million dollars than actually hire you.” Smith and Minnesota did what they thought was best for their basketball program.
Who really won and who really lost, here?