Tubby Smith took the stand yesterday on behalf of the University of Minnesota in the Jimmy Williams civil lawsuit. Smith is expected to return to the witness stand for further cross-examination by counsel for Williams.
Williams is suing Minnesota on the basis that Smith negligently misrepresented his authority to hire Williams. Williams claims during a 14-minute phone conversation on April 2, 2007, that Smith offered him an assistant coaching position.
William quit his $200,000 job at Oklahoma State the next day on the basis of what Smith told him. Williams claims athletic director Joel Maturi caused Smith to rescind the job offer extended to him by Smith after Maturi became aware that Williams committed several NCAA violations during his prior time as a Gophers assistant in the 70s and 80s.
On direct examination, Smith testified, “I know in the course of our conversation I never told him to quit his job...to resign.” Smith had earlier stated under oath in a deposition that “[he] didn’t think there was a finalization of salary.”
On cross-examination, Smith was asked about an E-mail Maturi sent early on April 3 directing an assistant to arrange housing, keys, and identification cards for Saul Smith, Ron Jirsa, and Williams. Smith acknowledged that the E-mail was sent to “facilitate the transition” of the assistant coaching candidates.
Counsel for Williams also referenced notes from Smith indicating salary numbers and Smith’s plans to hire Williams, his son Saul Smith, and Ron Jirsa. Saul and Jirsa signed contracts with Minnesota on April 5, 2007.
Throughout the trial, Minnesota has consistently reminded the jury that Williams made the decision to leave his job before he officially secured another job. For example, current Gophers assistant Vince Taylor told jurors last week that he didn’t submit his resignation before he signed with Minnesota because, “I know in this business, it’s never done, until it’s done.”
The University will likely advance during its closing argument that there was no job offer extended to Williams because there was no agreement between Smith and Williams as to the salary Williams would be paid by Minnesota.
During the course of the trial, Williams attempted to bolster his argument that a job offer was extended by Smith by portraying Smith as a power coach that did not need to get permission from his Athletic Director to extend a job offer to an assistant coach.
Former Oklahoma State and Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton testified that he had “never” heard of an athletic director interfering with a prominent head coach hiring his assistants. Counsel for Minnesota got former Gopher Coach Jim Dutcher to acknowledge on cross-examination that Dutcher have had a “serious discussion” with then Athletic Director Paul Giel over whether Dutcher could hire former assistant Bill Musselman because of Mussleman’s prior recruiting violations.
The University has suggested during the course of the trial that as an institution they are more acutely aware of recruiting violations and that it is known that the Athletic Director is going to have more involvement in the hiring decisions of assistant coaches.
Minnesota will likely argue during closing argument that Williams, as a former assistant at the University, was well aware that Maturi would be involved in the decision to hire him.
Smith testified on Monday that he felt he was misled by Williams because the former Gopher assistant didn’t tell Smith about his prior NCAA violations.
Smith testified that he never would have considered Williams for a job as an assistant if Smith had known about Williams’ violations because of the negative attention it would have brought to the start of his Minnesota coaching tenure. Smith testified that in his three decades of coaching that his coaching staffs have never had a major or minor NCAA violation.
Counsel for Minnesota will likely ask the judge for a jury instruction which instructs the jury that if they find that Williams misled Smith about his prior recruiting violations at Minnesota that the jury must find in favor of the University.
The trial will likely conclude today after Williams and former Minnesota basketball coach Jim Dutcher are recalled to the stand as rebuttal witnesses. The key to the trial however will be how well Tubby Smith plays defense on cross-examination this morning.
Neither side will likely be able to persuade the trial court judge to grant their side a directed verdict entering a decision in their favor as a matter of law. Expect a couple of anxious nights in the unseasonably sweltering heat in Minneapolis as the jury deliberates.