Remember the Jim O'Brien case? USC should

May, 18, 2009
If USC were to make a quick decision on Tim Floyd's job status based on recent allegations that he paid O.J. Mayo's handler $1,000 in cash, the Trojans would be well-advised not to fall into the same trap as Ohio State did with former coach Jim O'Brien.

The O'Brien case offers a precedent for not only USC and Floyd, but for "termination for cause" contractual issues between a coach and a university over NCAA allegations/violations for years to come.

O'Brien was fired by Ohio State on June 8, 2004, after it was revealed that in 1998 he paid $6,000 to the mother of a recruit, Aleksander Radojevic, a player who went straight to the NBA rather than go to school. The payment at the time was made, according to O'Brien, for humanitarian reasons, as Radojevic's family dealt with the effects of the war in the former Yugoslavia after the death of Radojevic's father.

But Ohio State made the move before the NCAA had conducted its investigation. O'Brien sued and won a wrongful termination lawsuit, winning $2.2 million plus interest from the school. The university appealed, but lost.

O'Brien was given a show-cause penalty by the NCAA in 2006, but that was ultimately reduced. O'Brien, who currently lives in Massachusetts, is now free to be hired by any NCAA school without the school needing to go in front of the infractions committee to see if there would be any further penalties per a show cause.

"I'm surprised no one has picked up how parallel these two cases appear,'' said O'Brien's Columbus-based attorney, Joseph Murray. "I would be surprised if USC would attempt to terminate him under these circumstances. Coach Floyd, like any other coach, deserves to be heard by the NCAA and have all the facts presented. The O'Brien case is a shining example when a university rushes to judgment. It backfired on Ohio State and caused unnecessary harm."

The difference in this case is that O'Brien was fired before he even talked to the NCAA, while Floyd has reportedly had at least one meeting with the NCAA enforcement staff. According to a timeline spelled out last week in reports, the meeting was before former Mayo insider Louis Johnson told the NCAA and federal authorities that Floyd paid Mayo handler Rodney Guillory $1,000 in $100 bills outside a Beverly Hills cafe as Johnson and Guillory were heading to Las Vegas for the 2007 NBA All-Star Game.

"If these schools want to set up a system for investigations where you then appear before the infractions committee -- a system set up by the NCAA membership which USC is one of -- then they have to hear the allegations first,'' Murray said. "It doesn't make sense to me that a university would terminate somebody before the outcome of the process."

USC is a private school, meaning Floyd's contract is not a part of the public record.

"Every contract stands on its own, but the key in any contract is the for-cause language,'' Murray said. "Most universities retain the right to terminate for cause, but it's how cause is defined.''

According to Murray, O'Brien's contract said Ohio State could fire him if the NCAA "found" a violation, not just alleged one occurred.

"The distinction is whether there's an allegation or a finding of a violation,'' Murray said. "I would hope that Coach Floyd was successful in negotiating his contract that he would have continued employment in the face of allegations."

The NCAA doesn't release an update on investigations, but sources have told that the case isn't close to being finalized yet. If Floyd's contract mirrors O'Brien's and USC is attentive to Ohio State's dilemma, Floyd should be safe throughout the investigation unless a major violation is determined and announced by the NCAA's committee on infractions.

• So to recap, Juan Pattillo got to Oklahoma late, wasn't sure he was going to play this past season, but then convinced everyone he wanted to take off his redshirt and play. He did so in January, made a significant impact as a key player off the bench, and was projected to be a starter this season.

And now he's gone, dismissed for a violation of team rules.

"It's a loss for us, but I believe we will be fine,'' OU coach Jeff Capel said. "We lose three of our top post guys from last year with Blake and Taylor [Griffin] and Juan, but I believe in the guys we have coming back and the guys we have coming in.''

Pattillo, a JC transfer, averaged 5.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19 games. He and the Griffin brothers will be replaced by a collection of newcomers led by Keith "Tiny" Gallon.

But the onus is more on the wings, where Willie Warren and Tony Crocker will have to be leaders.

"It can't just be lip service,'' Capel said. "It has to start with actions every day this summer. I am so excited about the potential of this group and can't wait to have a chance to work with them."

• The Pac-10 will be undergoing a complete face-lift next season. In discussing a potential first-team All-Pac-10 squad with a number of league coaches and administrators, the message is clear: There is quality personnel, but the league doesn't have a whole lot of star power at the moment.

If UCLA's Jrue Holiday, USC's Taj Gibson and Arizona's Nic Wise stay in the draft, the top seven candidates for the first team are: Cal's Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher; Washington's Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter; Washington State's Klay Thompson; Oregon State's Roeland Schaftenaar; and Oregon's Tajuan Porter.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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