Gillispie claims agreement was in place

Updated: May 27, 2009, 10:07 PM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Former Kentucky men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie sued the school Wednesday, seeking at least $6 million he says he is owed on his deal for being fired without cause.

Gillispie's attorney, Houston-based Demetrios Anaipakos said that the Kentucky coach's reason for filing thel lawsuit was pretty simple.

"You can't have your cake and eat it, too, to put it quite simply," Anaipakos said. "There's a public misconception that Coach Gillispie did not sign a contract with the University of Kentucky athletic association. He absolutely did. They drafted it. He signed it. They signed it and their board approved it. Whether you're in Kentucky or Texas, a deal is a deal."

In the lawsuit, Gillispie claims that breach of contract and fraud and that he and the university operated under a signed memorandum of understanding because he hadn't signed a formal contract in his two years.

[+] EnlargeBilly Gillispie
Matt Cashore/US PresswireBilly Gillispie is seeking $6 million from his former employer, Kentucky.

He contends that under that memorandum, he should be paid $1.5 million a year for four of the five years left on the deal. The suit also asks for an undisclosed amount of punitive damages, attorneys' fees, court costs and interest.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Dallas contends the school's athletics association is in breach of contract and has committed fraud because the university never intended to honor the agreement.

"Rather than honor its written, signed deal with coach Gillispie, defendant prefers instead to pretend as though no deal was ever reached," the lawsuit says. "Unfortunately for defendant, its make-believe world is just that."

University attorneys expressed surprise over the lawsuit.

"The university was continuing to negotiate a separation in good faith and his counsel had asked for more time," they said in a statement.

Responding to the statement, Anaipakos said. "I find it difficult to believe they were surprised as they had from March 27 until today to honor a contract they had made with this man."

The lawsuit offers offer several examples where a memorandum of understanding was cited as a contractual agreement between the two parties including a July 2007 letter where the university told Gillispie he could not enter into an endorsement agreement with a Houston-based company because of the language in the memorandum of understanding.

"Both parties operated under it." Anaipakos said. "He received the benefits he was supposed to be getting under that contract and when he tried to sign a personal services agreement they said, 'No, no, no.' They enforced the deal and lived under the deal and then when they ended the relationship said there was no deal."

Anaipakos said the next step is the court scheduling a hearing. He expects that to happen quickly, perhaps within 10 days.

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart, reached Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla., said he had no comment.

"I just got off the phone with our attorneys and I can't say anything," Barnhart said.

Jimmy Stanton, a spokesman for University of Kentucky president Lee Todd, said there wouldn't be further comment because it now involves pending litigation.

Much of the 24-page lawsuit highlights the 49-year-old Gillispie's biography, describing him as an up-and-coming coach who resurrected a Texas A&M program before leaving to lead Kentucky, the nation's all-time winningest college basketball program.

"He resigned a promising, successful position as head coach with a rapidly ascending program at Texas A&M," it says. "He did so because he believed [the university's] false representations to him during his negotiations."

In three seasons with the Aggies, Gillispie was 70-26, making the NCAA tournament twice including the Sweet 16 in 2007. The previous three seasons before Gillispie came on board, A&M was 20-22.

Gillispie went 40-27 in two seasons with the Wildcats, including a 22-14 mark last season that tied for the second-most losses in the program's 106-year history. A stumble down the stretch left the Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.

Gillispie still has a home near Lexington. He is not coaching right now.

Dana O'Neil is a reporter for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Dana O'Neil | email

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