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Tubby Smith loses lawsuit, but not really

On the face of it, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith lost his lawsuit against would-be assistant coach Jimmy Williams Wednesday. The jury found that Smith misrepresented himself to Williams, claiming he had the authority to hire or fire an assistant coach when, in fact, he didn't. Williams alleged that Smith offered him an assistant coaching position at Minnesota in 2007, and thanks to that offer, Williams quit his job at Oklahoma State, where he was making $200,000 a year.

Then athletic director Joel Maturi pointed out something about Jimmy Williams that Tubby Smith probably ought to have known: The assistant was hit with NCAA violations -- at Minnesota, of all places -- under former Gophers coach Eric Musselman. Maturi apparently decided that he didn't want to revisit that legacy and so by most accounts rejected the Williams idea. Williams quit his job, sued, and voila. Here we are.

So, yeah, it looks like Minnesota lost. After all, it had to pay more than a million dollars to someone who never actually worked for any of that money. But Rush The Court makes a rather excellent point on the matter today. If you think about it, Williams is the one who lost:

Tubby Smith is widely known as one of the great men in the game, a man who values his integrity and that of the program of which he’s at the helm far more than any dollar amount. If he (and his AD) felt that not hiring Williams -- a man who has been slapped by the NCAA while working for the very school to which he’s re-applying -- was the best thing for the UM program…well, that just might be worth $1.25 million. [...] Williams may have won his lawsuit, but in addition to the question of impropriety he carries with him, he now has the reputation of a guy who sues coaches and schools for which he’s worked in the past. By not settling, Minnesota has told him, "Based on information we have, we’d rather risk losing a lawsuit and paying you over a million dollars than actually hire you."

In a way, the entire case is more vindication for Tubby Smith and Joel Maturi than it is for Jimmy Williams. Smith and Maturi got to make a moral stand here. They got to say, hey, you know what? We're not going to do things that way. In fact, we're so committed to not doing things that way that we're going to take this lawsuit to court and fight it there, in the public eye. I'm not sure this was the smartest financial decision. But if there was any doubt as to the Gophers' commitment to avoiding NCAA penalties, it should pretty much die out today. Minnesota wants to stay so far away from NCAA sanctions it's willing -- sort of, anyway -- to pay $1.25 million to do so. That's the outward appearance here, which is why sometimes a loss is not actually a loss.