Jury Says Brady Broke Contract, Doesnt Penalize Him
A jury decided Wednesday that Matt Brady breached his contract with Marist College, but it won't cost the James Madison men's basketball coach a penny in damages.
The jury in the civil lawsuit, tried in a New York state court in Poughkeepsie, declined to award Marist any money in compensation for Brady's sudden departure for JMU in 2008. The small, private college had sought $425,000 in damages.
Marist attorney Paul Sullivan said Wednesday evening that he is not yet sure if the school will appeal the decision.
For Brady, 46, the verdict Wednesday ended a four-year process that cost him time, stress and legal fees.
"I've always felt strongly that this thing should be resolved face-to-face and amicably between the two parties - myself and Marist," he said Wednesday from his cell phone on the way back to Virginia. "Now that there's a finality to it, I'm eager to get back to my job and move forward. I'm excited about my team, I'm excited about my job. And I'm excited about having a really good team next year. This Marist situation I thought was really, really unfortunate that it wasn't settled amicably four years ago, but now it's over."
JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said Wednesday's decision did not affect Brady's job status at Madison. Bourne, who was in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday for a Nike-sponsored college basketball event called Villa 7, also said Brady has not been reprimanded or penalized by JMU and probably won't be.
"I'm out of town," Bourne said. "I haven't had a chance to meet with the university administration at any length. At this point, our major concern is on the men's basketball team's performance next season, and we're doing everything we can to make sure they do well."
Marist sued Brady and JMU in 2009, saying the coach broke his contract in 2008 when he left for Madison without written permission and maintained contact with players he had recruited while head coach at Marist. Four of those players - guard Devon Moore and forwards Julius Wells, Andrey Semenov and Trevon Flores - ended up at JMU.
James Madison in April settled its portion of the lawsuit by agreeing to pay Marist $100,000, but Brady opted to go to trial in New York State Supreme Court (similar to a district or circuit court in other states) in Marist's hometown of Poughkeepsie.
Using an economist to estimate damages last week, Marist itemized more than $420,000 in costs it said it incurred because of Brady's departure. The school categorized the damages in three segments: loss of recruits, replacement of assistant coaches and decreased ticket revenue. The Red Foxes, who play in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference, have posted a 39-96 record in four years under coach Chuck Martin, who replaced Brady in 2009.
The jury, it appears, had trouble quantifying any damages he caused by leaving Marist.
"We always thought it was very speculative in regard to damages," Brady's lawyer, Richard DuVall, said, according to the Poughkepsie Journal.
The jury took about 1 hour, 40 minutes to decide the case. After each side made closing arguments Tuesday, the jury deliberated for 40 minutes before Judge Robert M. DiBella sent it home for the day. The jury of five men and three women reconvened around 9:20 a.m. Wednesday and deliberated for roughly an hour before delivering its ruling.
Despite the fact that Marist did not receive money - except for the $100,000 from JMU - a school spokesman said the college was not "disappointed" in Wednesday's verdict.
"We feel that it affirms our position, which was basically that all parties to a legally binding contract have to hold up their end of the deal," Greg Cannon, Marist's chief public affairs officer, said. "Between the JMU settlement and the jury's decision, we feel as if that position was affirmed."
JMU admitted no guilt when settling with Marist, but wanted to remove itself from the issue, university spokesman Don Egle said last month. Egle said he had no comment on Wednesday's developments, referencing remarks he made in April about the lawsuit being unrelated to JMU.
"This issue is and always will be with Matt Brady," Egle said on April 27. "James Madison University never had any sort of contract with Marist College. Matt Brady had a contract."
Testimony last week revealed that Bourne was not aware, when he hired Brady, of the clause in Brady's contract with Marist that forbade the coach from contacting recruits he had previously spoken to while at Marist.
Asked if he would do anything differently if he could replay the situation, Bourne declined to comment.
"It's unfortunate that this case was brought forth and that we had to deal with it," he said. "It's one of those things in life that you need to work through."
He's now relieved that it's over.
"Any time you go through a case like this it is a distraction for a head coach," Bourne said. "And it's been going on for some time. I would hope Matt would be able to take this case off his mind and focus on his team."
Brady said he wished that JMU had never been involved.
"I believe, very strongly, that this has only been a dispute between Marist College and Matt Brady," he said. "And the fact that JMU was pulled into this by the plaintiff, to me, was clearly unwarranted."
Marist, it appears, wanted to make an example of Brady. Sources say Brady and athletic director Tim Murray's relationship fractured even before the coach indicated he would leave the school. By suing Brady and JMU, the college aimed to make a point.
Two years ago, Marist's lawyer said the case "could well set a precedent for college and university athletics nationwide."
"Coaches have to abide by contracts, and other institutions have to respect those agreements," Sullivan said at the time. "If that contract is breached, damages will be assessed. It's a simple lesson in fiduciary responsibility and contractual obligation."
It's difficult to conclude if any meaningful precedents were indeed set. Marist proved that contracts are binding, but there was no penalty for violating one.
"The fact that no damages were awarded speaks to the difficulty in sports of placing a monetary value on a coach or a team," said Dan Fitzgerald, a Connecticut attorney who has a sports law practice.
Of the three categories from which Marist sought damages, Fitzgerald thought the school had the best chance of recovering money on the basis of recruiting costs, because that is somewhat quantifiable.
Paul Haagen, co-director of sports law and policy at Duke University, said he was not surprised by the verdict, because any damages assessed would have been "speculative" without a liquidated damage clause in the contract.
"In a technical sense, [every] case creates a precedent," Haagen said in an email. "The broad principle that coaches can be liable for breach of their agreements is not [new]. From the published reports it appears that the precedental value of this case will be limited. It is likely to be a reminder to insert liquidated damage provisions in these coaching agreements."
Brady, whose job was in jeopardy this past season after his second 20-loss record, is in the final year of a five-year contract that pays him a minimum of $290,000 anually.