FAYETTEVILLE – The lawyers of former University of Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema filed an amended lawsuit last week, contesting the Razorback Foundation's arguments that Bielema's civil lawsuit against the foundation should be kicked out of federal court.
The Razorback Foundation asked the judge of the U.S. District Court P.K. Holmes III Wanted to dismiss Bielema's original federal lawsuit on June 26, claiming that disputes between Bielema and the Foundation should be contracted before the Washington County Circuit Court.
Bielema's 2018 negotiated buyout contract with the foundation states: "Washington County, Arkansas is the exclusive location for all actions that result from or in connection with the contract."
The Western Arkansas District Court has an office in Fayetteville, Washington County. Bielema's lawyers claim that the court is an appropriate place to file the lawsuit, as Bielema now resides in another country and the amount in dispute is more than $ 75,000.
Lawyer Thomas A. Mars, one of six lawyers representing Bielema, wrote in the amended lawsuit that Bielema was planning to move to another state at the time of negotiating its final buyout and was "fully aware that the Venue selection clause, therefore, allow him to file disputes before state or federal courts. This choice of venue was essential for Coach Bielema, and he relied on it when he signed the final buyout contract. "
Earlier agreements between Bielema and the foundation said that the Washington County Circuit Court would resolve disputes that arose during the buyout period.
According to the settlement agreed in January 2018, Bielema should receive severance pay of up to $ 11.935 million by December 2020, subject to an opposite reduction.
The Razorback Foundation alleged breach of contract and ceased payments to Bielema in January 2019. She demanded the repayment of more than $ 4 million that he had already received.
Bielema's lawyers filed the original lawsuit on June 12, asking for $ 7.025 million in damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, court fees, and lawsuit.
Bielema's lawyers characterize the foundation as "so closely linked to all aspects of the university's athletics department that it acts as the arm of the athletics department". The lawsuit and amendment proceedings also allege that UA Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek appeared to be the "driving force" for the Foundation's decision to stop making payments to Bielema based on Yurachek's recent criticism of high dollar takeovers.
“(C) Given the incestuous relationship between the athletics department and the foundation, it is inconceivable that the foundation would have stopped the monthly buyout payments and threatened Coach Bielema with a lawsuit of several million dollars unless Mr. Yurachek was one the architect of this plan or clearly expressed his support for it, ”says the lawsuit.
In its application for termination, the foundation claims that it is independent of the UA and that it is not a state agency. However, it is also argued that the 11th amendment to the U.S. Constitution would prevent the federal court from hearing the case if Bielema's characterization is true.
"If we accept the truth of the Foundation's claims at the moment … a monetary judgment in favor of Coach Bielema will have no effect on the Arkansas state treasury, and the university is not the party of interest in this case," said the lawyers countered by Bielema in the amended lawsuit.
The amended lawsuit also pushes back on the Razorback Foundation's assertion that Bielema could not be hired as a college head coach while serving as a special assistant to the New England Patriots during the 2018 season.
In its request for dismissal, the Razorback Foundation claims that Bielema's agreement with the patriots included a provision that prohibited him from taking another job for the duration of his six-month contract with New England, and gave the patriots the unilateral opportunity to expand Bielema's role and Employment lock for up to 12 additional months.
In the amended lawsuit, Bielema's lawyers said the patriots "reaffirmed their consent that coach Bielema could terminate his contractual relationship with the patriots at any time to take up a DI head coach position" before Bielema signed the agreement on July 15, 2018.
"There was nothing unusual in the understanding between coach Bielema and the patriots about his freedom to leave the patriots without penalty to take up a position as head coach at a DI school," the amended lawsuit said. “NFL contracts with restrictions on finding or accepting other employment are intended to be aligned with the NFL rules and guidelines, which until May 2020 strictly prohibited an NFL team from manipulating another NFL team's coaching team.
"For the patriots, these contractual terms are not intended to prevent coaches from leaving to take on head coaching positions in college football."
The amended lawsuit quotes former New England coordinators Charlie Weis and Bill O’Brien, who are leaving the team to take up positions as head coach at college. Weis was hired as head coach at Notre Dame in 2004, and O'Brien was hired by Penn State in 2012.
Bielema was paid $ 125,000 by the patriots the year after his release from Arkansas. He received $ 25,000 for seven weeks of advisory work at the time of the NFL draft and $ 100,000 as a special assistant for Belichick between July 2018 and January 2019.
The foundation stopped paying Bielema on January 31, 2019, three days before the patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in the Super Bowl. In its letter to Bielema, the foundation said that Bielema had "made no diligent or other efforts to obtain a replacement job of the same or similar character".
As the Razorbacks head coach, Bielema had an annual salary of $ 3.45 million last season. He was released at the end of a 4-8 campaign in 2017.
In five seasons in Arkansas, Bielema had a 29-34 overall record and an 11-29 record in SEC games.
Bielema's lawyers say that shortly after his release from Arkansas, Bielema personally made inquiries about openings in Arizona and Nebraska, and his agent Neil Cornrich contacted a search firm to assist in coaching search in Arizona.
The lawsuit states that neither Bielema nor his agent were contacted by a school in the off-season after the 2018 season, but that he was involved in searches last year in Rutgers, Colorado, Michigan, Baylor, South Florida, Boston College, and Florida was Atlantic. Bielema interviewed athletics directors in Rutgers and Colorado according to the amended lawsuit.
Between the time of his dismissal in November 2017 and the conclusion of his buyout contract with the foundation two months later, the amended lawsuit led Bielema to talk to representatives of "several" TV stations, an on-air football analyst with a sensible six-figure salary of up to $ 150,000.
The amended lawsuit states that Cornrich proposed to Razorback Foundation CEO Scott Varady to exempt $ 150,000 from Bielema's mitigation clause in the first year of his takeover agreement, and Varady agreed in principle.
Bielema's exempt salary should drop to $ 125,000 in his second year of buyout payments and to $ 100,000 this year.
In April 2019, Bielema was promoted to a full-time assistant coach at New England, which earned him $ 250,000 a year. He was hired by the New York Giants as a defensive coach at a salary of $ 400,000 earlier this year.
In addition to Mars of Rogers, Bielema is represented by the lawyers R. Craig Wood and Benjamin P. Abel from Charlottesville, Virginia. John C. Everett from Farmington; Little Rock's John E. Tull; and Ryan K. Culpepper of Hot Springs.
Lawyers Marshall S. Ney, Robert W. George, and Katherine C. Campbell von Rogers are listed as lawyers for the Razorback Foundation.