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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tennessee Titans sue USC and Lane Kiffin for Inducement of Breach of Contract and Tortious Interference
Marcia Smith of the Orange County Register has the story on the lawsuit and interviews me and Lewis & Clark Law School professor Tung Yin about it.
The gist of the lawsuit: the Titans allege that USC and its new coach, Lane Kiffin, "maliciously" lured away running backs coach Kennedy Pola to become the Trojans' offensive coordinator.
The alleged malicious part is that Pola's contract with the Titans required written permission from both the Titans team president and its general counsel for him to take another job. He didn't get the permission, and the Titans claim USC and Kiffin knew about the permission requirement. Now the Titans don't have a running backs coach with a week to go before training cap.
Here is an excerpt from Smith's story:
To read the rest of Smith's column, click here. To read the complaint, click here.
I have 5 other points:
1) I think it would be interesting to find out how common the alleged clause requiring Pola to obtain written permission is in the contracts of Titans' assistant coaches and, if it is common, whether the team has enforced it with other departing coaches. Or, if its unique to Pola's contract, why did the team insist on having it with him?
2) Although the facts of this case are different, there was the recent case in New York involving James Madison University engaging in tortious interference by hiring away basketball coach Matt Brady from Marist College without obtaining the proper permission from Marist. Marist won the case. While that case is in a different jurisdiction, does not concern a position promotion (as Pola, now an offensive coordinator as opposed to mere running backs coach, is getting with USC), and probably involves different contractual language, perhaps the Titans nonetheless feel emboldened by the outcome of that case.
3) I assume Pola isn't being sued himself for breach of contract because the Titans do not believe it is financially worth it, or because they still like him as a person, or because they do not want to develop a reputation for suing departing employees who leave the team for a promotion.
4) While this lawsuit is unlikely to prevail, the Titans are sending a message that other teams probably agree with: don't poach coaches right before the start of training camp.
5) If this dispute were between the Titans and another NFL team, rather than with a college team, we wouldn't see a lawsuit -- we'd see Commissioner Goodell resolve it, internally (like when Commissioner Tagliabue resolved the dispute between the Jets and Patriots when the latter hired Bill Belichick away -- the Jets got a first round pick, the Patriots got what turned out to be one of the best coaches of all time).