Kennedy plea nets him probation

CINCINNATI -- Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy avoided jail time Monday by pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct for his altercation with a cab driver.

Kennedy was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and six months probation by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Dwane Mallory. The coach faced up to six months in jail on his original assault charge.

Standing in the middle of the courtroom with his hands clasped behind his back, Kennedy turned toward the cab driver and a valet who witnessed the incident and apologized to them "for any role that I may have played in this unfortunate situation."

Kennedy has three years remaining on his contract with Mississippi. A few hours after the coach's plea, the school's athletics director declined to extend the deal beyond that -- even though he said Kennedy's on-the-court performance warranted it

"Andy should have handled this situation better as it relates to the time frame and subsequent dispute," athletics director Pete Boone said.

The 41-year-old coach was arrested last December when Mississippi was in Cincinnati for a game against Louisville as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational. Cab driver Mohamed Moctar Ould Jiddou said Kennedy punched him in the face and called him a terrorist after he told the coach he couldn't fit him and four others into his cab.

Kennedy is still embroiled in civil lawsuits with the driver and the valet, who backed the cab driver.

Kennedy declined to comment after the hearing Monday, noting that the civil lawsuits are still pending. He later released a statement through Ole Miss apologizing to the school and its fans.

"I acknowledge using poor judgment which resulted in an adverse reflection on me, my family, our program and the university that I so proudly represent," Kennedy said in his statement.

Ole Miss finished 16-15 last season, ending with a loss to Kentucky in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Police said Kennedy was in a downtown bar with friends and Ole Miss staff last Dec. 18, the night before the game. When Kennedy hailed a cab to return to the team's hotel, Jiddou told him there were only four seat belts in his car, so under law he couldn't take the entire party.

The cab driver said Kennedy became abusive, called him "bin Laden, Saddam Hussein," and punched him in the side of the face. Police were called and Kennedy was arrested.

Bill Armstrong, the school's director of operations for the basketball team, also was charged with disorderly conduct. Armstrong pleaded guilty before a different Municipal Court judge Monday and was fined $100.

Kennedy vehemently denied that he hit the cab driver or called him names, saying the allegations were "heinous." He later sued the cab driver and the valet who came forward as a witness, and they filed countersuits.

Although Jiddou declined to comment after the hearing Monday, his lawyers said he was glad that Kennedy accepted some blame for his actions. Lawyer David Mann said there had been some "preliminary conversation" about settling the civil suits.

Noting that Kennedy is still suing the cab driver even though he has now admitted guilt in the criminal case, Mann said, "This case has been bizarre from the beginning, and that continues."

Valet Michael Strother declined to comment beyond acknowledging that the case has upset him.

His lawyer, Phil Taliaferro, said he hopes Kennedy has "the courage to do in the civil case what he's done in the criminal case, and that's to admit that he was wrong and drop those cases and drop them immediately. This is outrageous."