MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former Oklahoma State assistant basketball coach who sued Minnesota coach Tubby Smith over an aborted hiring was awarded nearly $1.25 million by a jury Wednesday.
The jury found that Smith falsely represented that he had the authority to hire Jimmy Williams when he called Williams in 2007 to talk about an assistant coach position in Minnesota. Williams claimed Smith offered him the job and that after that conversation, Williams resigned from his $200,000-a-year post at Oklahoma State.
But Minnesota officials backed away from Williams after athletic director Joel Maturi pointed out that Williams had NCAA recruiting violations in his past.
Williams' lawsuit, which also named the university as a defendant, was seeking $1.7 million in lost past and future income. Williams said Wednesday's verdict vindicates him and he hopes to return to coaching.
"I'm just happy right now that the jury saw that I was telling the truth, and now I can move on with my life and my career," Williams said. "Hopefully in the near future I'm going to be back doing what I love, and that's coaching."
He said his reputation had been damaged by the ordeal and the verdict was a step toward clearing his name. He hasn't held a coaching job since he quit Oklahoma State, and his attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., said Williams has been living off retirement funds.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Smith testified during the eight-day trial that he never finalized a job offer and didn't tell Williams to quit his job.
Mark Rotenberg, the university's general counsel, said in a statement Wednesday that Smith and Maturi did nothing wrong. "Refusing to hire Jimmy Williams was the right call, and the university stands behind these officials," he said.
"Tubby Smith has never had a single major violation in his 30-plus years of coaching, and he's never hired anyone with the history of multiple major NCAA violations like Jimmy Williams has. Under Joel Maturi, not a single Gophers coach has ever been hired with a record of major violations like Jimmy Williams has," Rotenberg said.
He called the award "extraordinary" and said the university would consider an appeal.
Two jurors who spoke to reporters after the verdict said there was a lot of discussion in the jury room about what a "reasonable person" would do and the standard practice in the industry. They said the decision was unanimous.
Juror Tracy Jackson said the jury studied the evidence, including e-mails between Smith, Maturi and other university staffers, as well as records of cell phone calls between Smith and Williams.
Juror Margaret Stearns said, "We all were pretty much in agreement based on the evidence."