Several players from Ole Miss made a trip to Michigan to visit with Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverine football program this past weekend.
After the events of the last few weeks – Matt Luke hired as coach, the NCAA sanctions handed down, players stating that they wanted to transfer, etc – I wanted to dig into what all is happening. As I was putting information together for this story, it was announced that Lee Tyner is resigning from his post.
On December 7th, I read an article by Brad Logan at Gridiron now, titled “Ole Miss Must Defend Itself – Aggressively – Against this Latest Wave of Attacks.”
In his story, there was an interesting section that grabbed my attention:
“Ole Miss has lifted its restrictions on current players’ ability to transfer and to what schools. But, frankly, retaining counsel simply in order to transfer reeks of ulterior motives. Per Ole Miss, a player must request permission to speak to other schools. It requires only limited paperwork, and why the players are seeking said counsel is a story in and of itself.”
The social media reaction of the Rebels fan base, about some of their players deciding to transfer, has been interesting, to say the least.
So I decided to reach out and get information from somebody that would know.
Tom Mars, who many of you have become familiar with thanks to the Houston Nutt lawsuit against the school that resulted in the removal of Hugh Freeze as head coach, agreed to talk with me for quite some time about this topic, along with several others that are going on with the Ole Miss football program, as he is now representing several players that want to transfer out of Oxford to different schools.
GARY: Have you read Brad Logan’s article at Gridiron Now titled “Ole Miss Must Defend Itself – Aggressively – Against this latest Wave of Attacks?” If so, what were your thoughts on his remark that retaining counsel simply to transfer “reeks of ulterior motives,” and that the players seeking counsel “is a story in and of itself?”
TOM: I have read the article.
It’s not clear to me whether Mr. Logan was referring to my motives or the motives of the players’ parents. However, with respect to my motivation for sharing with you what happened last week with the removal of the restrictions, I don’t know that it makes any difference. Either way, once you give your audience the facts, they can judge for themselves whether it made sense for the transferring players’ parents to retain a lawyer.
Before giving you the details of what happened last Monday and Tuesday, I’m going to share some other background information here to provide some important context and perspective. Let me begin by addressing Mr. Logan’s assertion that being hired by players’ parents to assist them in the process of having their sons transfer while maximizing their chances of being granted immediate eligibility to compete “reeks of ulterior motives.” Here’s my response: Brad, I have no ulterior motives and neither do the players’ parents or the players themselves. The reason I was retained by the players’ parents is just as intuitive, logical and explainable as the reason I put gas in my car yesterday. There’s nothing more to it.
To play off that, can you tell me some of the things that the players’ parents said to you about why they wanted you to represent them, as opposed to some other lawyer?
Let me address that question up front as well. The first part of my answer, to that question, is that no experienced lawyer would ever share with the media the contents of the lawyer’s conversations with their client because, by doing so, the lawyer might waive the attorney-client privilege. That said, I can tell you that, while all the parents who called me were upset with Ole Miss, and some were downright distraught, I can also share with you that none of them ever indicated in any way that they had a desire to hurt the football program or do anything that went beyond helping their son through the transfer process while being able to exercise their legal rights without interference or retaliation from Ole Miss. I should add that every single parent I represent feels sorry for every other Ole Miss football player who has had to endure the distractions of the past two years – to say nothing of the sudden departure and replacement of the head coach.
To put the current situation at Ole Miss in perspective, nobody should forget for one second that, but for the decisions Ole Miss made nine months ago, the parade of horribles that Ole Miss fans have had to watch this year would have been a lot shorter. To provide just a glimpse of what I’m referring to, here’s an email exchange between me and Ole Miss’ General Counsel that occurred eight weeks after I had tried for the last time to obtain an apology from Ole Miss for dragging Coach Nutt’s name through the mud.
From: Lee Tyner
Date: July 12, 2017 at [10:42:34] AM EDT
To: “Thomas A. Mars”
Subject:Re: Houston Nutt
I am sorry that I did not return your call on that Tuesday in May. My failure was the product of my oversight and many irons in the fire, not a slight to you or Coach Nutt. After you spoke to the press, I thought your stated purpose for the call (to discuss before you went to the press) was moot. Perhaps I was in error.
I still believe that we would all benefit from a frank discussion about the difficult choices and consequences each party may face if a suit were filed. Ross and I remain willing to meet with Coach Nutt and you to discuss,
On Jul 11, 2017, at [8:36] PM, Thomas A. Mars wrote:
Nice to hear from you, Lee.
I haven’t heard those rumors about a lawsuit, but I wouldn’t expect to. I don’t spend much time in whatever airspace they’re flying around in.
I hope you’ll recall that back in May, I suggested we talk before I started calling sports reporters. You e-mailed me back promptly saying you’d call me the next Tuesday, which made me think you might see the wisdom of resolving our claim before I spent a lot of time digging into the details behind your smear campaign.
You didn’t call that Tuesday morning so I sent you a reminder e-mail and said if you could please call when you got a chance, it would only take a few minutes. You didn’t even reply to that e-mail and you never called me – not then or ever. (That was eight Tuesdays ago.) Given the number of e-mails you were cc’d on in connection with my subsequent FOI requests, it was pretty clear that you didn’t just forget to call me. You just decided not to.
I didn’t take that personally, Lee. I know you have your plate full. However, I did think that was a pretty arrogant thing to do, and it did cross my mind in the following weeks that you might later regret treating Houston and me like we were just annoying background noise that wasn’t worth your time and attention.
In any event, eight Tuesdays ago would have been a good time for Houston and I to meet with you and Ross. Now, however, with the benefit of the information we’ve acquired from more than 200 hours of investigation, we don’t have any interest in talking with you, Ross, or anyone else at Ole Miss. That said, Houston and I appreciate your very belated offer.
So, whatever hard feelings Ole Miss fans have about their current predicament, they should bear in mind that, if the administration hadn’t adopted an attitude of arrogance and invincibility in dealing with Coach Nutt’s grievance and just apologized in the first place, the Rebels’ football program would be in a very different place right now.
There has been a myriad of critical comments and accusations against you posted on social media by the Ole Miss fan base. Have you paid attention to any of these? How do you feel about what has been said?
A highly-regarded sports journalist once told me that, when it comes to college football, “Twitter is the world’s biggest sports bar.” With that description in mind, I embrace the idea that people using Twitter and other social media platforms should be free to hide behind their Twitter handles and offer their opinions, whether fact-based or fictional. By analogy to what a half-wasted fan might say or shout in a rowdy sports bar, it doesn’t concern me that Twitter and college sports message boards sometimes bring out the worst in people, leading them to post messages make them look biased, uninformed, petty, mean-spirited, idiotic, fanatical, and so on.
One reason this social media behavior doesn’t concern me is because the only time I’ve ever gone into “the world’s biggest sports bar” or read college sports message boards was when I had a need to do investigative research in Coach Nutt’s case. Based on that experience, I’ve learned to just ignore the Twitter and social media posts that sound much like the rants you’d hear from a drunk college sports fan in a real sports bar.
As I said, I’m not on social media, but lawyers and other colleagues regularly send me examples of the latest “alternative facts” being posted by Landshark fans with appropriate emoji characters attached. While skimming through these text messages from friends who want me to see the latest nonsense on social media, I’ve been surprised to discover how many Ole Miss fans cling so tightly to their preconceived notions about the university, reject out of hand any information that doesn’t align with what they apparently want to believe, and fiercely attack and attempt to discredit anyone whose words or actions have the potential to threaten their entrenched mindset. Month after month, I’ve seen crazy examples on social media of the Ole Miss fan base unapologetically attacking and attempting to discredit the NCAA, Mississippi State, Houston Nutt, me, and so on – and, most recently, even the members of what Ross Bjork likes to call the “Ole Miss family.”
I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this in any sports or educational setting. And it’s not like this is my first exposure to fanatical football fans. In fact, I spent most of last year doing legal work for a large private equity firm that bought a company whose corporate offices are 30 miles south of Green Bay. I’d estimate that 99% of the people who lived or worked there were die-hard Packers fans, and from being on the ground in their midst for seven months, I can tell you they’re more loyal and fanatical than you might have even imagined (and they consume an enormous amount of alcohol). But whether they’re half-drunk or stone-cold sober, even the most fanatical Packers fans don’t have the mindset I just described, and you won’t find them on social media spewing venomous comments and blaming others with no factual basis for doing so.
I’ve got several friends that live in Wisconsin that have been Packers fans their entire lives. They’re fans of the team, but they are definitely not ones to jump on conspiracy theories without any evidence.
Agreed. Having that immersion experience last year with Packers fans as my frame of reference, I just don’t understand what it is about the culture in Oxford that makes their alumni and students behave the way they do or why, to use a “current event” as an example, they think that viciously attacking football players’ whose parents want them to transfer will help Matt Luke attract new top-rated players in the 2017 recruiting cycle.
If you’re not aware of what I’m referring to, a guy named Zack Berry, who writes for some outfit called Red Cup Rebellion, went out of his way in the past two days to publicize some incredibly inappropriate and baseless remarks made on social media by one of the transferring players’ own teammates.
In leading this smear campaign, Zack Berry referred to the tweeting Ole Miss football player as a “special friend” of Red Cup Rebellion and proudly reported that this player “does not take kindly to folks tucking tail and getting out of dodge because of some bullshit bowl ban.” Pushing this despicable hit piece well over the line, Berry went on to tell whoever reads this garbage that this “special friend” of his has been announcing to the whole world on Twitter that his departing former teammates were “punks” and “bitches,” and “trash.” To be fair to Berry’s “special friend,” Berry’s choice of those words was, to some degree, his own interpretation of the player’s tweets. (This is the article: Josiah Coatney is Blasting Ole Miss Players Who Want to Transfer on Twitter).
This kind of social media commentary by a current member of Coach Luke’s team (who by all accounts of Ole Miss tradition, had pledged his loyalty to his teammates both on and off the field) should be alarming in and of itself. What’s even more disturbing, however, is that neither AD Bjork or Coach Luke have made any apparent effort to stop this player from defaming and trash-talking the transferring players on Twitter. If I’m wrong about that, they sure haven’t been very effective. In any event, by their silence in the face of this hateful rhetoric, both Bjork and Luke appear to be perfectly comfortable with one of “their players,” as the AD calls them, making completely inappropriate, uncalled for, and baseless public statements about a teammate that wouldn’t be tolerated by any other SEC school or any head coach in the NFL.
There seems to be a lot of, as you put it, “inappropriate, uncalled for, and baseless public statements” out there with the fans right now.
If you’d ask any First Amendment lawyer, they’d tell you that defaming someone on a nationally-read social media platform is not viewed as a “best practice” for expressing one’s opinion. A nationally-recognized First Amendment lawyer I’ve worked with over the years makes a practice of telling his clients that there’s nothing wrong with having an unexpressed thought, especially when you’re emotional. That’s good advice to anyone. For what it’s worth, I’ve also heard him say when speaking at conferences that defaming someone you obviously dislike on Twitter is “nothing short of an open invitation to get hauled into a courtroom somewhere far from the comfort of your couch and keyboard – an experience that can be both expensive and inconvenient.”
Let’s get back to the kids that were having the statements made about them by Coatney. Do you think it ever crossed the offending player’s mind, before he started “blasting” other players, that the ones transferring may have been lied to? Or there could be other circumstances regarding their transfer situation?
These kids have done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment. What’s happened at Ole Miss this year wasn’t their fault. It was the result of a profound failure of leadership, blatant deception, and a display of institutional arrogance unlike anything the SEC has ever seen before. What’s more, I’m guessing that it never occurred to Zack Berry, the author of the Red Cup Rebellion hit piece – or the Ole Miss officials who did not require a retraction or an apology – that, as is true for almost every college student, the parents of football players rarely allow their sons to make the final decision where they go to college. That may occur on rare occasions, and that’s not saying those student athletes don’t have a vote, but college students rarely have the final say so on where they’re going to school – and that’s as it should be.
With that in mind, I wonder if the prolific sportswriter Zack Berry from Red Cup Rebellion and the Ole Miss officials who’ve tacitly condoned that kind of behavior ever considered that every one of the hateful words in that juvenile hit piece is an affront and personal insult to every one of the parents of these players who had the guts, intelligence and seasoned judgment to remove their sons from an environment that doesn’t reflect the values they stand for. Zack Berry should think about that, and so should Josiah Coatney.
What’s more, they should think about how they’re going to explain to Shawn Jefferson, Nate Hope, Mike Anderson and the other affected mothers and fathers of these student athletes why they so viciously attacked and publicly disrespected not only their sons, but them as well. Just my opinion, but I’d hate to be Zack Berry or Josiah Coatney if you share with your readers what I think about them and the university officials who looked the other way instead of exercising at least a minimal amount of leadership. I hope Zack and Josiah have enough guts and decency to do what’s right and publicly apologize, both to the players and their parents. And if they don’t, maybe someone should ask Coach Luke or Ross Bjork whether Josiah’s divisive, public trashing of his teammates is consistent with their views and values. It would be interesting to hear their answer.
Aside from whether his players’ public rant was consistent with Coach Luke’s values and team policy, it’s also hard to fathom why any AD or head coach would think that allowing a player to engage in this kind of behavior ten days before the early signing period is an effective recruiting tactic. Surely Coach Luke knows that part of the prospects’ and their parents’ evaluation of the Ole Miss football program will include a review of social media commentary. You don’t need coaching experience to know that allowing one of your players to publicly trash his teammates on Twitter right now is a really bad idea.
Let’s get into your thoughts on Ross Bjork’s comments in his press conference last Friday, and the public statement he made on Wednesday about his intent to hold people accountable who “tamper” with Ole Miss players.
I thought the AD’s comments about the appeal were not intended to help or support the seniors who have an automatic right to transfer and instead were calculated to give seniors and their parents the impression that Ole Miss winning an appeal of the bowl ban could deprive those players of immediate eligibility to compete. In other words, I thought that comment was part of a calculated tactic to deter senior transfers. If that’s the message the AD intended to convey (which may not have been his intent), I believe his comments were both inappropriate and misleading. Even if that wasn’t the AD’s intent, what people heard and took away from his comments is more important than what he said or how he said it.
With respect to the comments the AD made on Friday about the rules governing when other schools could contact Ole Miss players, I thought it was ridiculously ironic – almost to the point of being funny – that Ross Bjork of all people would be publicly lecturing other NCAA member institutions about the importance of following the rules within hours of his Athletic Department being hammered by the COI and characterized as a recidivist rule violator.
When the AD made the comment last Wednesday about “tampering” (an odd choice of words in the context of his statement), my first impression was that the AD was probably making an empty threat toward me related to my representation of certain transferring players and their parents. Perhaps I was just being paranoid. In any event, after speaking with some reliable sources in the past few days, I now believe that the AD’s “tampering” comment was an empty threat directed at other schools and that the bravado in that statement was intended to appease the people who the COI had referred to “over-involved” boosters just a few days earlier.
Just my opinion, but Ross missed a great opportunity here. He would have killed it if he had put the wrestling belt photo up on Twitter next to his statement. That might have compromised the serious tone he was trying to set, but it would have been hilarious enough to generate massive retweets. Maybe next time.
Tell me more about the players wanting to transfer. Why would parents who want their sons to transfer hire a lawyer early in the process when the first part of the process only involves getting permission to contact other schools?
I’ve sent you a flow chart that illustrates the process for the transferring player’ new school to request a transfer waiver allowing the transferring player to be immediately eligible to compete. I’ve also sent you the relevant sections from the NCAA Bylaws governing such requests. The goal of the parents and players I represent is to transfer to another school with the hope that the NCAA will grant a waiver to their new school that allows them to transfer without penalty. They all understand that there is no guarantee they will become immediately eligible, but the compliance directors at the schools they are talking with seem to share my view that the odds are clearly in their favor.
One thing is certain, however: If Ole Miss would work with us and support the waiver requests when they are sent to the NCAA, there would be an even greater likelihood that the requests would be granted. Working together toward that goal would seem to be not only the smart thing for Ole Miss to do; it would also be the right thing to do.
Contrary to what’s been suggested by some uninformed people on social media, what I’m doing on behalf of these players and their parents is perfectly appropriate and consistent with common practices. In furtherance of my clients’ objectives, I’ve had extensive discussions with the NCAA staff section that handles requests for transfers without penalty. They’re fully aware of what I’m doing on behalf of my clients and have confirmed there’s nothing at all unusual about a student athlete’s parents have their own lawyer work with the NCAA compliance director of the school that will ultimately submit the package to the NCAA in support of a request for a waiver.
As for my involvement on the front end of the process, generally speaking, a player and their parents wouldn’t need a lawyer. In this situation, however, my clients were glad they had one. Let me explain.
While the university hasn’t been very transparent about why they released the restrictions they had placed on the “permission to contact” letters, there’s a clear email record of what happened in the 24 hours leading up to that decision. I’ve sent you all the relevant emails and have left nothing out.
On Dec 4, 2017, at [2:10] PM, Thomas A. Mars wrote:
The Jeffersons are anxious to get a response to Van’s request for permission to contact. I’ll be sending a letter tonight or tomorrow to Cal Mayo and Henry Gimenez regarding the players and parents I’m assisting. In the meantime, I wanted to ask if you could check with Ross or Matt Ball and let me know when Van and his parents should expect to receive a response from Coach Luke.
On Dec 4, 2017, at [5:33] PM, Lee Tyner wrote:
I will check with Athletics about Van Jefferson’s request. I am not certain the purpose of your letter to Henry and/or Cal. Cal was retained in connection with the Nutt lawsuit. Henry is outside counsel in connection with the NCAA enforcement case.
Sent from my iPhone
On Dec 4, 2017, at [5:02] PM, Thomas A. Mars wrote:
Lee, I was just being mindful of the Public Records Act. I’ll be glad to send the letter to you.
On Dec 4, 2017, at [6:14] PM, Lee Tyner wrote:
If your concerns are about NCAA issues (compliance, transfer rules, etc…), you may send your letter to Henry and/or me. If your concerns are potential legal claims/actions against the University, Cal regularly serves as outside counsel on litigated matters, and you may send your letter to Cal and/or me. If your letter is about any other matter, please send it to me.
Sent from my iPhone
From: “Thomas A. Mars”
Date: December 4, 2017 at [7:07:28] PM EST
To: Lee Tyner
Subject:Re: Denial of Requests for Permission to Contact
Two responses to permission to contact requests sent by Matt Ball today informed the student athletes that permission would not be granted for them to contact SEC schools or other schools Ole Miss is scheduled to play in the near future. The players and parents I represent take the position that conditions placed on student athletes who requested permission to contact any Division 1 school constitute a denial of the requests under NCCA Bylaw 184.108.40.206.1. and that the university is therefore required to explain in writing their right to a hearing. No such notice was provided in the responses sent my Matt Ball.
Can you please advise whether the Ole Miss procedures for hearings following the denial of a student athlete’s request for permission to contact are available on the university’s website?
PS: As a preview to the email I was planning to send tomorrow, it’s my informed opinion that whoever is calling the shots on these transfer requests and the communications with players and parents is making a big mistake. Because of the approach the AD is taking, at least two sets of parents I represent are now hell bent on filing lawsuits in their home states based on unilateral contacts Coach Freeze and others had with them in their respective states of residence. The purpose of the letter I intended to send tomorrow was to encourage the decision-makers on these requests to consider taking a different approach. From everything I know about how this is being perceived by the numerous affected players and parents, and based on the almost twenty first-hand witnesses who’ve recounted blatant misrepresentations that are strikingly similar, restricting the contact rights of these student athletes after deliberately misleading them and their parents (they call it being “lied to”) is going to backfire on the AD in ways that even make me cringe.
From: Thomas A. Mars
Sent: Tuesday, December 5, 2017 [9:02:39] AM
To: Lee Tyner
Subject: Permission to Contact
Lee, as Coach Luke probably knows, some of the players whose parents have retained me would have no objection to the restrictions set forth in the response to their request for permission to contact. Others do. With that in mind, I’ll send you a note later today confirming which players have no objection to those restrictions.
On Dec 5, 2017, at [3:21] PM, Lee Tyner wrote:
You are correct that there is a process for an appeal. Matt Ball will make certain any players who have requested permission for schools to contact them are aware of that process.
As for the limitations initially placed on the permission to contact, the restrictions are common. None of the student-athletes have objected to those restrictions to anyone in our Athletics Department. Frankly, if they had any objections and a legitimate reason to seek transfer to one of the limited schools, we would ordinarily work through those issues with the student-athlete and his family in the ordinary course. The student-athlete’s best interest is always the priority. Coach Luke and Ross Bjork have discussed the matter. To be consistent, they are removing any restrictions on the permission to contact. Matt Ball has reached out to the student-athletes to let them know.
Please be aware, however, that to be immediately eligible, the transferring school still needs to seek a waiver from the NCAA. If a student-athlete were to transfer to a school in the SEC, that school would also have to seek a waiver from the conference under conference rules.
From: “Thomas A. Mars”
Date: December 5, 2017 at [3:33:17] PM EST
To: Lee Tyner
Subject:Re: Permission to Contact
Thanks for the note, Lee.
I’ve talked with all the affected players and their parents in the last hour or so, and they are all very pleased with the university’s reconsideration of the permission limitations. Thank you for whatever role you played in that decision.
Consistent with that decision, I think there’s a path forward here that wouldn’t require any admissions or concessions by OM or anyone else and would avoid the possibility of any further pushback or negative publicity. I’ll outline my thoughts about that at a high level and get back in touch with you this evening or tomorrow. I’ll be sure to convey my thoughts in a way that will allow us to have a subsequent conversation if you think that would be helpful.
Contrary to the spin the university put on their public statement on Tuesday, the record plainly shows that I notified the school’s General Counsel on Monday that some of my clients had an objection to the restrictions. The university also failed to mention in their public statement that, on Monday evening, I notified the General Counsel that the university had failed to comply with an NCAA rule that required them to include in the letters they gave my clients on Monday a statement advising them of their right to a prompt hearing before a committee of disinterested persons.
In an effort to correct their failure to give the student athletes the required notice of their right to a hearing when they imposed the restrictions on Monday, the university sent the student athletes letters on around noon on Tuesday with the restrictions removed, and included an illogical, backward-looking statement informing the student athletes of their right to appeal the imposition of the restrictions the university had just rescinded.
In the email I sent to the university’s GC Monday evening, I also asked the GC for guidance on where I could find the university’s written hearing procedures that are also required by the NCAA’s rules. I didn’t receive a reply to that question until Tuesday afternoon, after the university came up with a plan to extricate itself from its latest mistake.
You may have noticed that the postscript to the email I sent the GC offered my unsolicited opinion about the approach the university had taken with these athletes and their parents and what I thought the consequences would be if the AD and head coach didn’t change course. My comments there should speak for themselves.
The bottom line here is that, contrary to what was suggested by the university’s public statement on Tuesday, the AD and head coach didn’t suddenly have a joint epiphany to remove the restrictions on Tuesday, moments after learning for the first time that some of the players objected to the restrictions. The truth is that I put them on notice of the objections on Monday and, later that day, brought to their attention their failure to give my clients notice of their appeal rights and made clear we were going exercise those rights and have a hearing. I mentioned some other things in my postscript.
For the benefit of Mr. Logan or anyone else who wonders why these players’ parents hired a lawyer so early in the process, perhaps this more complete and accurate explanation of what transpired this week will help them understand why these parents asked for my help so early in the process. But if anyone needs further proof of why that was a wise decision, I should mention that, in separate incidents, two of the players I represent went to pick up their scholarship checks on Friday and were told by a university financial aid employee that Matt Ball (the AD’s compliance director) had asked her to have them sign a form before they picked up their checks.
The players looked at the form and realized they were being asked to forfeit their scholarship. To their credit, and only because their parents had hired a lawyer, the players told the financial aid person that they had a lawyer and weren’t signing anything without the lawyer’s prior approval. With that additional information, I hope the people who read Mr. Logan’s column might learn that the only thing that “reeks” here is flawed “fan-base journalism.”
Wow. I’m a little speechless.
Speaking of that, it came to my attention yesterday that Neal McCready and his cohost, Chase, were questioning my motives on their podcast this week and that they assumed my motives were “personal” because I probably wasn’t making much, if any, money by helping these players and their parents. This is another good example of people just making assumptions that conveniently fit their preconceived notions because that’s what they want to believe – no matter what the truth is.
Since you brought up McCready, and I just heard you say “fan-base journalism,” I know you’ve referenced him as a “fan-base journalist” in the past, and he took offense to that, claiming that he’s not a fan of Ole Miss – that it’s his job to cover the school. Any thoughts on that?
I never meant to imply he was a fan of Ole Miss. I did hear that this label had attached to him on social media, and that he almost had a meltdown about it. My choice of the words “fan-base journalist” to describe certain Mississippi journalists was a reference to their audience – not to them – and wasn’t intended to convey anything except their commitment and loyalty to the Landshark fans who read, listen to, and apparently believe whatever they write or say.
So, back to McCready and Parham questioning your motives… can you confirm whether or not the players’ parents are actually paying you? Just to put this conspiracy to bed?
While it is true that I’m at the point in my career where money isn’t the driving force behind decisions I make to represent a client, I’m not a charity pro bono lawyer for anyone who has a grievance with Ole Miss. Practicing law is how I earn a living. With that in mind, I don’t mind telling you that the players’ parents are paying me per hour just like almost every other client I represent.
Let me wrap up by offering some closing comments for the Ole Miss conspiracy theorists, critics, and haters. It seems these folks just can’t accept that I’m just doing my job and would be doing it the same way no matter who was on the other side. I don’t hate Ole Miss. Heck, until I got involved in this mess on Coach Nutt’s behalf, I hadn’t even thought about the place since the weekend I visited following my graduation from high school.
I might agree that it’s unfortunate for Ole Miss that I’m available to whoever has a beef with them, but the way I see it, that’s their fault. If the university decision-makers had just apologized to Coach Nutt nine months ago, nobody in Mississippi would have ever heard of me. So, there’s no reason for anyone to portray me as the bogeyman of Oxford. I’m just doing my job. I should clarify, however, that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to be doing it in the way I have been if the university decision-makers had taken a more conventional approach to addressing my clients’ concerns.
The Ole Miss fans who don’t believe this could just ask any other person or company I’ve dealt with on behalf of my clients over the past 30 years. It wasn’t always an unpleasant experience for them, but it quickly became unpleasant if they put up obstacles to my clients’ goals just for the sake of being difficult or thought they’d gain some advantage by trying to manipulate the press to make my clients look bad.
But even in the most contentious case I’ve ever been involved in, the principals of the two companies who were on the other side (Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones being one of them) never lost sight of the fact that I was just doing my job. In fact, Mr. Jones approached me at an airport after the case was concluded favorably to my clients following a highly-publicized trail, told me that even though he was furious and frustrated throughout the months leading up to the trial, he wanted to introduce me to Mrs. Jones and tell me I’d done a good job for my clients. If that alone wasn’t a remarkably classy thing to do, Mr. Jones turned around as he and Mrs. Jones were headed out to the Cowboys jet and said I should call him if I ever wanted to attend a Cowboys game. And years later, I took him up on that offer, which to this day is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve shared with my son. The principal of the company that took the financial hit in that case is an extraordinarily successful, high-profile businessman and a former White House Chief of Staff. After the case was concluded, we ended up working together on a variety of interesting projects, became close friends, and ever since then, he’s been on my short list of people I most admire. That’s an extreme example that involves some high-profile people, but there have been other cases where the people, or company, I successfully sued later hired me to be their lawyer.
They all understood I was just doing my job.
I’ve paid close attention all year to what Ross Bjork says and does, and I suspect he’s kept close tabs on me as well. Based on what I’ve heard Ross say during radio and podcast interviews, I know we have very similar views on how good leaders should conduct themselves and where their focus should be while managing an organization through a crisis.
I also know that Ross has probably faced the most daunting challenges that any SEC AD has ever confronted, and I’ve admired his stamina and ability to deal with those challenges and keep moving forward. I don’t mean to suggest I agree with his decisions, but I haven’t stood in his shoes either. I could be wrong, but if we hadn’t encountered each other under these circumstances, I think Ross and I would probably see eye-to-eye on most things, get along just fine, and be able to disagree on issues without either of us taking offense.
Even after all the unpleasantness we’ve both been through, I’d be perfectly comfortable sitting down with Ross and Lee Tyner to work through whatever differences we still have and agree on a path forward that works for both the university and the players and parents I represent – but I doubt that’s going to happen. I suspect that some of the more influential, “over-involved” boosters have already made clear to Ross that the day he sits down with me for a cordial discussion will be his last day at Ole Miss. I could be wrong about that, but that’s what my gut tells me.
This is where the interview left off.
But news came out today, as I was typing everything up, that Lee Tyner, General Counsel for the University of Mississippi, has resigned.
I figured it was only right to ask Tom for a statement on Tyner.
Tom, I’m sure you’ve heard that Lee Tyner resigned from the University of Mississippi today. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I’m sorry I didn’t have a better working relationship with Lee, but that’s not all his fault. I own part of that.
I saw the announcement about his resignation, and I hope people don’t start making unfounded assumptions about why Lee is resigning. General Counsel jobs are the toughest jobs in our profession, and the average tenure of a GC is a lot shorter than Lee’s tenure at Ole Miss. To put it in terms your readers can relate to, GCs are a lot like college football coaches. Oftentimes, their departure is for reasons completely beyond their control and is not a reflection of the administration’s assessment of their talent, effectiveness, or ability to accomplish the university’s goals.
Like a lot of college coaches, I’m sure Lee will be a highly marketable talent with plenty of attractive opportunities to choose from. He’ll do a great job wherever he lands, and I wish him the best.
Get caught up with our other stories on the Ole Miss vs NCAA mess: