This article was initially published by the Hartford Courant and features Withers US head of sports, Michael Rueda.
It was apparent within hours of Kevin Ollie’s firing five months ago that UConn officials and the former coach would not have a clean separation with $10 million still on the line.
The firing came after UConn wrapped up its second straight losing season. A national men’s basketball powerhouse and national championship not long ago, the program declined in recent years under Ollie who played at UConn from 1991-95. Ollie’s firing was not the result of on-court struggles, however.
Athletic director David Benedict said the firing was for “just cause” — a legal term meaning he felt there was legal grounds for firing Ollie. The former coach wasn’t paid for the remainder of his contract nor given a buyout and Dan Hurley was hired as the new coach days later.
The day of the firing Ollie sounded off, declaring he would contest the decision and “work vigorously to defend my honor and my integrity, and to defend my good name.” The back-and-forth between UConn and Ollie has played out publicly with statements, appeals, hearings and allegations. It also included the release of 1,300 pages of documents that Benedict said lead to the firing with allegations breaking NCAA rules. Ollie’s lawyers responded, threatening a lawsuit against his alma mater and demanding a retraction.
It’s unclear how the situation will come to an end, although it appears headed toward an arbitration hearing, which would be an all-or-nothing scenario in which Ollie is awarded all of the remaining $10 million of his contract or none of it.
UConn’s lawyers will need to prove whether it had just cause in firing Ollie in order to hang onto the remaining salary. Being a complicated legal matter, three experts in the field familiar with the situation weighed in for The Courant recently in an effort to shed light on the process and to analyze the case: Robert J. Romano, New Haven-based sports lawyer with 20 years’ experience representing sports and entertainment figures in contractual matters; Robert Rinker, retired, former executive director of the Connecticut State Employees Association; and Michael Rueda, a former UConn soccer player, now head of the U.S. sports practice at international law firm Withersworldwide. Rueda regularly advises athletes, coaches, and management on contractual issues.
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