Georgia Southern’s co-offensive coordinators last season, who were fired in the wake of a 5-7 record, have filed separate lawsuits against the school’s athletic association, head coach Tyson Summers and multiple administrators including athletics director Tom Kleinlein. The lawsuits allege breach of contract, fraud and tortious interference after the school failed to execute the 18-month contracts the coaches signed initially, then pressured them to sign shorter deals two days before their dismissal.
Copies of the lawsuits, which were obtained by USA TODAY Sports, were filed June 21 and 22 in Fulton County Superior Court by Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt law firm out of Birmingham, Ala.
After being offered the job by Summers and receiving formal offer sheets, both David Dean and Rance Gillespie signed 18-month contracts on Jan. 27, 2016, that established June 30, 2017, as the end of their term.
Both coaches claim that more than nine months later, they learned the school’s Board of Regents and the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation never signed the contracts. According to the lawsuits, Summers notified the coaching staff on Nov. 3, 2016, that new contracts were being prepared.
The second contract, which was given to the coaches following the 10th game of the season on Nov. 16, had changed the end of the agreement to Feb. 28, 2017.
The lawsuit alleges that Summers, Kleinlein, senior associate athletics director for business operations Jeff Blythe and director of football operations Cymone George “conspired to change the terms of the January Contract and specifically the employment end date” in order to save money, knowing they would be making coaching changes on the offensive staff.
The lawsuit states that Dean refused three requests from George to sign the new contract, believing he already had signed a valid contract. Dean claims he finally signed the new contract on Dec. 2 following a phone call with Blythe that left him with the impression that if he didn't sign it, he could be fired any time and that his salary and benefits would immediately cease. Gillespie’s lawsuit makes the same claim, saying Blythe “informed Gillespie that it would be in Gillespie’s best interest to sign the November contract for his own protection.”
These events were unfolding amidst a swirl of speculation that Summers might be removed as head coach following his first season, as fans were upset by offensive changes away from the school’s traditional triple-option attack and the failure to make a bowl game despite returning 17 starters from the previous year’s 9-4 team.
On Dec. 3, following the final game of the season, Kleinlein announced that Summers would remain as head coach. The next day, however, Dean and Gillespie were let go. On Dec. 9, Georgia Southern hired Georgia Tech quarterbacks coach Bryan Cook — who turned down the job a year earlier — to be the offensive coordinator.
The lawsuits allege that coercing the coaches to sign new contracts in November under the “ruse” that their January contracts weren’t valid amounts to fraud and conspiracy to defraud. The coaches are seeking damages including, but not limited to, the loss of compensation plus accrued interest and attorney fees.
Dean took a head coaching job at Div. 2 West Georgia on Jan. 25. Gillespie is now the head coach at Hart County (Ga.) High School, just across the border from Anderson, S.C.
Kleinlein referred USA TODAY Sports to the school’s legal counsel. Maura Copeland, the school’s associate vice president for legal affairs, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.