On Friday, USA Today ran an article discussing the latest information regarding the Houston Nutt lawsuit against Ole Miss.
The story can be found here.
Houston Nutt was fired from Ole Miss at the end of the 2011 season, and as part of his severance agreement, the school agreed to “direct” top officials for the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation and the University to not make any statements about Nutt’s tenure that could damage his reputation as a football coach.
The exact statement says “The University further agrees to direct members of the control groups for the Foundation and for UM not to make any statement relative to Nutt’s tenure as an employee that may damage or harm Nutt’s reputation as a football coach.”
Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit against the University of Mississippi, which was dismissed last week from federal court but appears to be headed for a filing in state court next week, for violating that contract, claiming that Ole Miss officials, including former head coach Hugh Freeze and current athletic director Ross Bjork, put together a smear campaign against him to help keep together a top 10 ranked recruiting class in 2016, several weeks after the first Notice of Allegations was delivered to the school by the NCAA.
Thomas Mars, Houston Nutt’s attorney, provided a statement to Winning Cures Everything on the matter.
MARS STATEMENT RE: HDN/OLE MISS SEVERANCE AGREEMENT
“The rules of contract interpretation in every state require courts to interpret contract language by favoring the interpretation of the non-drafting party. In this case, that’s Houston Nutt. Those rules of contract interpretation also require courts to reject interpretations that lead to absurd results or that would make the contract language virtually meaningless.
In connection with his severance agreement, Houston Nutt was represented by a very competent and experienced sports lawyer. At the time Houston signed the severance agreement in 2011, it was made clear to Houston that Ole Miss has a “top down” process for ensuring that all of its employees complied with the terms of the university’s contractual obligations and that this process begins with a formal notification to the members of the “control group” (basically, those people who report to the Chancellor) who are then responsible for communicating those obligations to their direct reports, who then pass the same message down through the chain of command.
Not once did anyone suggest to Houston that the non-disparagement language in section 8 only prohibited the then current members of the OM and OMAF “control group” from disparaging him. Nobody suggested that the language in section 8 meant that, with one microscopic exception for the few people at the very top of the university, Houston would be at the mercy of virtually anyone employed by Ole Miss who might want to drag his name through the mud by lying to every national and local sports writer who would take their call. Based on the legal principles that govern the interpretation of contracts, and the facts of this case. we don’t believe a court would conclude that the parties to this contract ever intended such an absurd result.”
The wording of the clause is below
8. Confidentiality and Duty of Loyalty: Nutt shall, aside from discussing the Agreement with Nutt’s attorneys, financial advisors, and/or tax preparers, keep the terms of this Agreement that have not otherwise been made public completely confidential. Nutt agrees that during the period that he is receiving payments from the University, he has a continuing duty of loyalty to the University to keep confidential any information that may harm the University or its current and former officers or employees. Nutt understands and acknowledges that the University would not agree to this Agreement but for these promises of loyalty and confidentiality, and any breach of confidentiality or of his duty of loyalty is a material breach of this Agreement. Outside of any obligation, legal or otherwise, to reveal the terms of this Agreement to third parties, the University agrees not to release or disclose information related to this Agreement. The University further agrees to direct members of the control groups for the Foundation and for UM not to make any statement relative to Nutt’s tenure as an employee that may damage or harm Nutt’s reputation as a football coach.”
USA Today also released this information:
Mars said university attorneys told him the control group includes seven titles:
- The Chancellor of the University of Mississippi Dan Jones
- The Director of Athletics Pete Boone
- The Senior Executive Athletics Director John Hartwell
- The Executive Associate Athletics Director Lynette Johnson
- The General Counsel for the University of Mississippi Lee Tyner
- The Executive Director of the University of Mississippi Athletic Association (“UMAA”) Danny White
- UMAA Board of Governor Members Don Fruge, Cal Mayo, Max Williams, and David Blackburn
Among those names, only Johnson, Tyner, Fruge, Mayo and Blackburn are still employed by the university.
Former Athletic Director Pete Boone was replaced by Ross Bjork, who is one of the 3 individuals alleged to have spread the false information about the NOA back in 2016 to the media, along with former football coach Hugh Freeze and Associate Athletic Director for Communications Kyle Campbell.
It would appear, to me, that Bjork, at the least, would be held to the same standards that former AD Pete Boone was being held to.
Get caught up with our other stories on the Ole Miss situation:
Get caught up with our other stories on the Ole Miss vs NCAA mess: