Savannah State, ex-coach settle lawsuit

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Savannah State University's ex-football coach received a $240,000 settlement to dismiss a federal discrimination lawsuit he filed last year, claiming the historically black college fired him because he's white.

A copy of the settlement obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday shows Robby Wells' attorneys were paid $110,000 in addition to the money paid to the former coach.

"Robby is very happy to have gotten this resolved and to be able to move forward," said Wells' attorney, James E. Rollins. "He really wants to get back into coaching. He hasn't been able to do that and hopes putting this behind him will give him that opportunity."

The settlement states that Savannah State still insists it did nothing wrong. The school's administrators "expressly continue to deny that they unlawfully discriminated against, retaliated against, or otherwise mistreated" Wells, according to the 12-page settlement document signed Nov. 10.

The Savannah Morning News first reported the settlement.

Wells became Savannah State's first white football coach when he was hired in 2007. He led the Tigers for two seasons, with records of 5-7 in 2008 and 2-8 in 2009. As coach, Wells earned about $90,000 a year.

Wells resigned suddenly in January 2010, soon after he signed a one-year contract extension. Wells said he was leaving the school for "personal reasons" and that he had to "think about my family and my health."

Four months later, Wells filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that told a dramatically different story. It said Savannah State administrators told Wells to resign or face being fired barely a week after a meeting in which they brought up Wells' race. The ex-coach claimed administrators told him that alumni wouldn't support him because he was white, and that Savannah residents wouldn't approve of him being engaged to marry a black woman.

Both sides issued a joint statement last month saying the case had been resolved "mutually and amicably" outside of court. But the terms weren't immediately disclosed.

Savannah State's attorney, Joe Steffen, said Thursday that administrators would not comment further on the settlement. The state Board of Regents, which governs Georgia's public colleges and was also a defendant in the suit, also had no comment, said spokesman John Millsaps.

Rollins, Wells' attorney, declined to discuss details of the settlement, which includes an agreement by both sides to cease talking about the case.

The joint statement agreed to as part of the settlement contained lofty praise for both Savannah State and its former coach. It hails Wells as the school's "most successful on-field coach in a decade" and Savannah State's commitment "to promote racial equality through educational opportunities."