Jimmy Williams quit his job coaching basketball at Oklahoma State, sold his home and got ready to move to Minnesota, thinking he was going to work for new Gophers head coach Tubby Smith.
But history tripped him up.
Williams was a basketball coach at the University of Minnesota during an embarrassing run of NCAA rules violations in the 1970s and '80s, and the university didn't want him back.
On Thursday, Williams initiated a suit against the university and Athletic Director Joel Maturi. Williams is seeking the assistant coaching position he said he was offered by Smith -- an offer he said was later pulled off the table by Maturi -- and is seeking damages for costs incurred when he quit his job.
The university says it owes Williams nothing.
"Tubby Smith did interview Jimmy Williams, but the two never reached any agreement for Williams to work for the university as an assistant coach," said Mark Rotenberg, university general counsel.
Added Rotenberg: "There was never any employment agreement provided to Williams, nor did the university encourage Williams to leave Oklahoma State and move to Minnesota. And the reason the university never gave Williams an employment contract is that Williams had a prior record of significant NCAA rules violations while working in our basketball program in the 1970s and '80s. Neither Tubby nor Joel could overlook that prior record."
Maturi declined to comment, citing "pending litigation," but several weeks ago told a reporter "there isn't any basis for the lawsuit." University officials denied a request to interview Smith.
Williams and his attorneys held a news conference on Thursday and released copies of the nine-count suit that was served on Maturi. The suit could be filed in Hennepin County District Court as early as today.
Williams, a Gophers assistant coach under head coaches Bill Musselman and Jim Dutcher, said this month that he discussed a position on Smith's staff over four days during the NCAA Final Four tournament last spring in Atlanta. Williams said he and Smith agreed on a contract calling for Williams to receive $175,000 and an additional $25,000 from Smith's basketball camp.
The complaint contends that Maturi overruled the hiring because of the NCAA violations that occurred while Williams was on Musselman's and Dutcher's staffs. Rotenberg said Williams was banned from recruiting for two years because of the seriousness of the violations during Musselman's years as head coach. But Williams' attorney, Dick Hunegs, said that Williams was the only coach kept on by Dutcher, and that the NCAA told Hunegs there were no issues that would prevent a school from hiring Williams.
After leaving Minnesota, Williams worked on university staffs at Tulsa, San Diego State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Louisiana-Lafayette, plus in the NBA for the Timberwolves. Hunegs said he was told by the NCAA that Williams' record was clean after he left Minnesota.
The complaint claims that the industry practice is for head college coaches to hire their own staffs. Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said a head coach's hiring autonomy probably varies from school to school.
According to Williams, Smith asked him on April 2 to start work immediately. Williams said he called Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton late April 2 and wrote a letter of resignation the next morning. An Oklahoma State athletic department spokesperson confirmed Williams resigned in good standing.
"He called me the night of the [NCAA title] game and said he was going to Minnesota, that he had been offered a job by Tubby," Sutton said in a telephone interview. "I know he has a daughter in Minneapolis, so I was happy for him, because he was going home."
The morning after he faxed his letter of resignation, Williams said, Smith called to say there might be a problem with Maturi approving his hiring because of the violations history.
The suit claims Williams' reputation has been damaged, making it difficult for him to find a college coaching job. He is now working with former NBA star John Lucas in Houston, tutoring young players.
"Whatever violations he might have committed were 30 years ago," Sutton said. "Jimmy is very well-respected in college basketball. ... I'll tell you this, as many places as Jimmy has coached, you won't find one person with a bad thing to say about him."