Associated Press Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — 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 after being fired without cause.
Gillispie, who was dismissed last spring, was working under a memorandum of understanding but hadn't signed a formal contract during the two years he coached the Wildcats.
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.
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, also declined comment because the matter 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. It also says he was negotiating a new contract with Texas A&M and that Kentucky officials interfered.
"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.
He also was criticized for failing to properly represent the school as an ambassador and occasionally being prickly with the media, including two halftime clashes with a female ESPN reporter.
His one-page termination letter concluded Gillispie was not a "good fit" for the school, and it specifically cited his failure to come to an agreement on a full employment contract.
During a news conference the day after he was fired, Gillispie maintained he was due the full $6 million buyout as stipulated in the memorandum of understanding.
"That's what it says in the contract, that's what it looks like to me," he said. "I don't know all the details and all those kind of things. I just know we signed a contract. It was a shorter version than maybe some."
Gillispie's attorney, Demetrios Anaipakos, said Wednesday that Gillispie prefers to let the lawsuit speak for itself for now. He said it was appropriate that it be filed in Texas rather than Kentucky.
"This lawsuit belongs in Dallas because that is where the University of Kentucky contacted coach Gillispie," he said. "That is where they negotiated their deal, and that is where parties reach the understanding he would be a new head coach."
Gillispie still has a home near Lexington. He is not coaching right now.
Former Memphis coach John Calipari agreed to an eight-year, $31.65 million deal in April to succeed Gillispie as Kentucky's head coach. Barnhart stressed at the news conference introducing Calipari that it was a full employment contract and had been signed.
Calipari has already attracted some of the top high school recruits in the country to Lexington, including securing two star players Gillispie had recruited.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.