Minnesota Gophers basketball fans have likely heard that the University of Minnesota recently announced the firing of Tubby Smith, who had been the men’s basketball coach for the past six years. An extension clause in the former coach’s contract provides for a $2.5 million buyout.
In a press release, an administrator for the University cited a number of factors for the termination, claiming that it was not tied to a single win or loss. However, the timing of this adverse employment action is certainly notable: The announcement came within 24 hours after the Gophers’ season ended in a loss to the Florida Gators in the NCAA tournament round of 32. The administrator also admitted that the University wants its Big Ten and NCAA men’s basketball program to consistently win.
Although the Gophers started the season 15-1, they won only one-third of their last 18 games. At least one source reports that the former coach’s strategies were sometime questionable, and often unpredictable, changing with each game. Yet the coach did lead the Gophers to some victories. Smith’s final tally is 124-84 in six years, including taking the Gophers to the NCAA tournament three times and once to the National Invitation Tournament.
As this post illustrates, it may be hard for an employee to disprove an allegation that a termination decision was not performance based. Almost no one has a perfect achievement record, and even highly compensated — and highly public — coaches are not immune from such allegations.
This is where an experienced employment lawyer may begin to investigate the surrounding context. For example, if an employer made the termination decision shortly before or after an employee took protected medical or military leave or reported illegal behavior, the termination may have been wrongful under the law. An attorney can thoroughly review the facts and advise employees if they may have a potential claim for wrongful termination.
Source: Star Tribune, “Tubby Smith fired as U of M basketball coach,” Michael Rand, March 25, 2013.