Glenn Guilbeau /GANNETT LOUISIANA
OPINION: Whether coach should have been fired or not, LSU showed little class
BATON ROUGE Perhaps the most revealing bit of evidence in the voluminous diatribe of fired women's tennis coach Tony Minnis against LSU is the matter of his health benefits.
Minnis and his attorney contend he was one month short of lifetime health benefits from LSU when he was fired by LSU athletic director Joe Alleva on May 16, 2012, after 21 years and 15 NCAA postseason appearances. He had enough vacation time due to get him through that month, but when he asked LSU officials if he could reach the lifetime health benefits in that fashion, he was told no.
Then he said he received a curious offer via LSU. If Minnis would agree not to file a lawsuit against LSU, LSU would in turn give him the necessary time to reach the health benefit.
This was six months before the filing of Minnis' lawsuit charging discrimination, harassment and disparate pay by LSU that was detailed in a Gannett Louisiana story on Sunday -http://www.wwltv.com/sports/Fired-tennis-coach-and-LSU-keep-serving-and-volleying-265923611.html.
So LSU officials were obviously already worried enough about a potential lawsuit to try to coerce Minnis into not pursuing it. Talk about a guilty conscious.
LSU only backed down and had Minnis' lifetime health benefits restored, according to Minnis and his attorney Jill Craft, after some of LSU's attorneys from the huge Taylor, Porter, Brooks and Phillips firm dropped by Craft's office and saw the girth of correspondence Minnis had been documenting for years. And they made copies.
Some of this dossier could prove to be damaging to LSU if the lawsuit continues to trial in federal court on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge or if LSU has to shell out another large case settlement as it has often done in recent years, particularly when facing Craft.
'He was one month short of health insurance for life, which is a significant benefit,' Craft said. 'And it felt like a rather deliberate move by LSU to me because it was used as some sort of leverage to try to get Tony to not file suit. Ultimately, they conceded.'
LSU may well have to concede, and maybe it should have already. That way it would not have already spent possibly more money in attorney's fees the last two years than it might end up paying Minnis in a settlement.
Craft was being nice when she used the word 'deliberate' to describe LSU dangling Minnis' health benefits. Slimy is more accurate.
Had Alleva and lieutenants Miriam Segar and Eddie Nunez behaved more like professionals toward Minnis and less like schoolyard bullies in several other instances in addition to the one above, they may not be in the legal tennis match they find themselves.
It's not like Minnis was setting the world on fire as LSU's women's tennis coach. Then again neither is LSU men's tennis coach Jeff Brown, who is still coaching. Nunez even admitted that in his deposition. 'They're fairly similar,' he said.
But when one considers how well Minnis was doing at a program that Alleva himself admitted on local television could not win big because of embarrassingly poor facilities, Minnis was winning about as much as one could expect, and he did reach the NCAA Tournament in his last year. If an athletic director does not take his tennis program seriously enough to improve facilities with the money that an LSU has, then that athletic director cannot fire a coach as if he is overseeing a football program that fans actually care about.
In the end, Alleva fired Minnis because he could. That's what bullies do. Had he replaced him with someone more qualified, it may have made more sense. Instead, he found Julia Sell, who had no previous head coaching experience and didn't even have an assistant coaching job at the time she was hired. She was coaching youth tennis on a part-time basis.
Sell does, though, have some connections to Alleva stemming back to his days as Duke's athletic director. Was Alleva doing an old crony a favor?
Whatever Alleva has done with a sport that few keep a close eye on, one thing is clear. He is doing what he wants because he can.
Maybe Alleva was right to fire Minnis. He had been there for 21 years. Maybe the program did need a fresh young coach to go with its fresh new indoor facility, which is finally on the way and set for a spring 2015 opening.
But the way Alleva and his henchman and henchwoman went about it smells very dank.
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