Carter v. FAU and Kiffin: What Can We Learn about the College Coaching Hiring Process?

May 26, 2017

By Dr. Matt Wilson, Associate Professor, Program Director Sport Business at Stetson University and Elizabeth (Libba) Galloway, JD, Visiting Assistant Professor of Business and Sport Law at Stetson University
In March 2017, Antonio Carter “A.C” filed suit in the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Alabama against Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and its Head Football Coach Lane Kiffin claiming that FAU and Kiffin reneged on a job offer for A.C. to become an Assistant Wide Receivers/Strength and Conditioning coach on Kiffin’s staff. This case raises several important coaching contract issues for both athletic directors and coaches. Before we highlight these issues we must first review the allegations included in the complaint filed on behalf of A.C.
Allegations in the complaint include:
A.C. was contacted and offered a one-year position to be Assistant Wide Receivers/Strength and Conditioning coach by Wilson Love, FAU Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, on January 25th 2017.
This date was seven days prior to National Signing Day and the position was to pay A.C. $40,000 salary and up to $4,000 for relocation expenses. At this time no contingencies were placed on the job offer.
A.C accepted the offer and was then informed by Love that he would be receiving an email from FAU’s Human Resources Department with the standard employment “paperwork”.
On January 27th 2017, A.C. informed Love he still hadn’t received the FAU paperwork, Coach Love reassured A.C. the paperwork was coming, he was hired and not to worry.
On January 28th, 2017, Coach Kiffin text messaged A.C. asking why he was not on campus yet. At this time A.C. informed Kiffin he was waiting on the FAU paperwork. Kiffin reassured A.C. that he was hired and the deal was “done”. Coach Love also told A.C. he needed to get to campus and get started.
A.C. and his wife both resigned their current positions in Alabama and began the school-transfer paperwork to begin the process of having their children attend school in Boca Raton, Florida.
At this time, Kiffin gave A.C. his recruiting responsibilities and he was assigned the recruitment of a junior college, past “4-star” prospect who was a close family friend of A.C.’s. A.C began to immediately reach out and communicate with the prospect.
On January 30th, 2017, Coach Love stressed the importance of A. C. to get to campus because Coach Kiffin wanted him there. A.C. immediately booked a flight that would get him to FAU the next day. In addition, A.C. finally received the FAU paperwork email. This email acknowledged FAU Athletics’ desire to hire A.C. and informed him, for the first time, “this offer is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check.” This email stated A.C. would also receive a third-party email for the background check. Upon receiving this third-party email, A.C. completed all forms. 
On January 31st, 2017 A.C. arrived in Boca Raton and was immediately taken to the FAU coaches’ offices.
On February 1st, 2017, (National Signing Day) A.C. attended the team’s 5 a.m. morning workouts and then worked with the rest of the football coaching staff throughout the day. At the end of the day A.C.’s top recruiting prospect and two other prospects A.C. was tasked with recruiting signed with FAU.
On February 2nd, 2017, A.C. was asked by the FAU Human Resources office for “clarification of concerns” that came up with his background check. A.C. immediately provided detailed responses to each concern and continued to work with the football staff.
On February 3rd, 2017, A.C. was informed by FAU that he would not be hired because of two prior minor misdemeanor criminal charges.
Over the course of the next week A.C. attempted to get this issue resolved and was unsuccessful in trying to meet with FAU Athletic Director Patrick Chung.
On March 21st, 2017, A.C. filed his complaint with the following six Counts: Reckless Fraud, Fraud through Mistaken False Statement, Promissory Fraud and Conspiracy, Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment, and Quantum Meruit/Quasi Contract.
Concerns raised by the lawsuit:
An initial concern with this entire situation is what type of standard hiring policies did FAU Athletic Director Chung relay to Coach Kiffin? Did these discussions include the FAU Human Resources department? At any time was there a clear statement informing Coach Kiffin stating all staff hires are contingent upon the candidate passing a third-party background check? If this information and statements were made to Coach Kiffin and neither he nor Coach Love explained the contingency with A.C., there may be a major issue with the FAU football hiring process.
Under contract law principles, it would appear the necessary elements of a contract were all present. The terms of the deal (one-year term, $40,000 annual salary, and relocation expenses) had been clearly stated. It appears, on multiple occasions, Coach Kiffin and Love reaffirmed A.C.’s hiring as being done. In reliance on this, A.C. and his wife quit their jobs and were in the process of moving their family to Boca Raton.
Another concern centers on the work done by A.C. during his time on the FAU football coaching staff. He alleged that Coach Kiffin gave him a specific charge; the recruitment of a potential student-athlete A.C. had strong family ties to. It would be assumed A.C. successfully completed this particular responsibility because FAU landed the potential student-athlete.
The complaint also makes claims that FAU has not been consistent in its reasoning for rescinding A.C’s job offer. A.C. claims that FAU had approved other Coach Kiffin-recommended FAU football coaching hires “despite significant publicized criminal and ethic charges and allegations against them.”
Potential Case Takeaways:
While additional facts may, of course, come to light from the filing of FAU’s answer and the discovery process, this initial analysis raises several important coaching contract implications.
Athletic Directors need to review and address their department’s hiring methods. When a new head coach is hired, the ability to fill out his/her staff is of paramount concern. Having a standard policy, in writing, clarifying proper new hire procedures must be communicated with new and existing head coaches. These policies could potentially lessen the likelihood of the issues in the current case. If the facts of this case are as presented by A.C., both Lane Kiffin and Wilson Love opened FAU to this complaint by not discussing the background check contingency. This appears to be a standard FAU policy illustrated by FAU’s initial Human Resources email to A.C. Taking the position that “everyone knows you have to clear a background check,” cannot be implied here especially because A.C. hadn’t been employed as a college football coach since 2012.
At no time was any mention made of A.C. having taken the NCAA Compliance test prior to speaking with the junior college “former 4-star” prospect or any other prospects. The standard rule is that coaches cannot engage in off-campus correspondence with recruits unless the said coach had passed his/her NCAA recruiting test. A.C. hadn’t been coaching in college since his last stint at Samford in 2012. If this is the case, and without additional information regarding A.C., was he designated by Coach Kiffin as one of his “9” recruiting eligible football coaches? If so, then there might be further NCAA compliance implications.
Another issue for FAU might be concerned with is A.C.’s title as Assistant Wide Receiver and Assistant Strength and Conditioning coach. Was A.C. listed as an on-field or off-field coach? This is an important designation because the NCAA has strict rules about how many contact hours on-field and off-field coaches can have with student-athletes. A.C.’s dual role of Assistant Wide Receivers Coach/Assistant Strength and Conditioning coach may cloud these boundaries.
Athletic Directors may want to institute a policy that no university generated official announcement on staff hires will be made until the Human Resources Office signs off on the potential hire. This policy may seem a bit drastic but it would protect the athletic department and university from the present situation. 
Matt Wilson, Ed.D. is an associate professor of sport business at Stetson University. A former college and professional baseball player, Wilson completed his doctoral work at the University of Georgia and has taught in higher education since 1998. His research area focuses on issues in intercollegiate athletics. Wilson’s work has been featured in Time Magazine, USA Today, Inside Higher Education ESPN Radio, Seattle Times, and Minnesota Plain-Dealer, and he has also presented at several international conferences. Wilson has several years of practical sport business work experience in intercollegiate athletics, the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and Augusta National Golf Club. Wilson owns a consulting business, focusing on team building, leadership, and sport skills development. Wilson is married to the former Lisa Nuxol (current Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University head women’s basketball coach) and together they have a son, Rocco.
Elizabeth (Libba) Galloway has enjoyed a comprehensive career as a lawyer, business executive and university instructor. She has served as a partner in the Business and Finance Department of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, a national law firm based in Cincinnati; deputy commissioner and chief legal officer of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA); and executive director of the Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists (PAADS). She has taught sport law, ethics and governance in undergraduate, graduate and law school programs, where she enhances the learning experience by infusing her industry experience and perspective into the classroom.


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