Former co-offensive coordinators file suits against GS athletics officials, Board of Regents

Thomas Jilk

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Rance Gillespie and David Dean, Georgia Southern’s co-offensive coordinators last season, have filed separate lawsuits alleging a subversive conspiracy last season by top-level Georgia Southern athletics officials.

The suits claim six counts against the defendants, including fraud, breach of contract and conspiracy to defraud, first reported by USA Today.

Kept in the Dark

The lawsuits lay out a scenario in which Dean and Gilllespie’s original contracts were scrapped at the last minute in order to save money and, they allege, hire a new offensive coordinator sooner.

The six defendants listed in both suits are athletic director Tom Kleinlein, head coach Tyson Summers, director of football operations Cymone George, associate athletic director for business operations Jeff Blythe, the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation and the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents.

Each suit shows similar events for both Dean and Gillespie. According to the Dean suit, on January 8, 2016, the coaches signed contracts that ended on June 30, 2017. The next day, head coach Tyson Summers retracted those contracts and, 18 days later, returned the coaches new contracts with the same end date as before (June 30).

Remarkably, over nine months later, on November 3, 2016, the lawsuits say that Summers informed both coaches that their previous contracts had not been “executed,” and that new ones were being prepared.

The January contracts were not signed by Robert Whitaker, for the Board of Regents on behalf of Georgia Southern, or Trey Sheppard, on behalf of the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation.

Dean’s lawsuit reads:

“At all times relevant to this action, the Defendants led Dean to believe that the January contract had been properly executed and signed.”

These actions were the same in Gillespie’s case.

“Prior to November 3, 2016, Summers, Kleinlein, Blythe, and George, with the knowledge that the January contract had not been signed, conspired to change the terms of the January contract and specifically the employment end date … to terminate Dean earlier … to save money and hire a new coach.”

November Contracts

Thirteen days later, on November 16, Summers allegedly presented Dean and Gillespie with new contracts, seemingly identical except for a key change: the employment end date. It had changed to February 28, 2017, four months earlier than the date on the previous contracts.

This was after Dean and Gillespie had already coached 10 of the 12 regular-season games.

Subsequently, both George and Blythe allegedly pressured both coaches to sign their new contracts. Dean originally refused since he had already signed a contract, but he says George “requested” him to sign the new contract “on three separate days.”

With Dean’s defiance, Blythe stepped in and, according to the suit, said it would be in Dean’s “best interest” to sign the November contract “for his own protection.”

Additionally, the suit says Blythe “implied” that Dean could be fired immediately if he did not sign it. “Under duress,” he signed the new contract on December 2 – the day before the regular-season finale – but left it on his own desk and went to a player meeting.

In one of the more troubling details of the Dean lawsuit, the newly signed contract was supposedly “removed” from Dean’s desk while he was in the meeting “without his knowledge or consent.”

The day after the final game of the season, Summers fired Dean and Gillespie. Five days after that, on December 9, Bryan Cook was hired as the new offensive coordinator.

Lost Compensation

As a result of the last-minute contract change, Dean and GIllespie are seeking financial damages. This would include the pay from four extra months for which they understandably believed they would be employed, along with lawyer fees. The exact amount would be decided at trial.

Dean, Gillespie and their counsel believe that the new contracts were signed only because of “false representations and intimidation,” in a conspiracy to defraud.

A Bit of Context

  • Kleinlein was just named a direct report to President Jaimie Hebert. He recently spoke to the George-Anne with positivity, and he said his new contract signified that the athletic program was headed in the right direction.
  • Summers drew ire from some of Eagle Nation after the uncharacteristically rocky 5-7 season in 2016. He, however, kept his job as he and Kleinlein promised to return the Eagles to a more run-oriented offense.
  • Georgia Southern is still adapting to playing in the FBS and the Sun Belt. Financial resources are a key component of becoming gradually on-par with the rest of the conference in terms of facilities and marketing.
  • Georgia Southern just hired a new deputy athletic director and is in the process of consolidating with Armstrong State, which ended its athletic program after the 2017 spring season.

Questions Remain

As the university says it cannot comment on pending litigation, questions mount in the Georgia Southern community.

  • How can Georgia Southern ensure accountability in some of its top coaches and administrators?
  • What legal strategy will the defendants use?
  • How much of a distraction will the case be as football season nears?
  • Will anyone be let go or resign prior to the season?

The George-Anne will stay updated as this situation develops.

Gillespie lawsuit Dean lawsuit

(Copies of the lawsuits were first reported by USA Today)