Former University of Louisville player Patrick Grant has sued Louisville and its former head coach Charlie Strong (who left in 2013 to be head coach at Texas), claiming that they reneged on a promise to give him a scholarship which included one year of graduate school. The case is complicated by the fact that Grant had been assaulted by two Louisville teammates, causing injuries which prevented him from playing. Grant claims that the scholarship promise was made by Strong after it became clear that Grant’s post-attack injuries would prevent him from any longer playing football.
Grant’s suit was set to go to trial this week, until a motion to continue that trial until May 27 was granted. But the trial will likely shine a spotlight on, or lift a curtain on, one of the most abused recruiting tools in college sports: the undocumented oral promises or representations made by coaches.
This is not the first such “breach of oral promise” brought by a former player against Louisville and a UL coach. Back in 2006, former UL football player Ryan Holifield sued, claiming that he was promised a scholarship after his first year, if he agreed to pay for that first year himself. Holifield, his parents, and Fork Union Military Academy coach Frank Sullivan all testified at trial that Petrino had made the oral offer. Petrino testified that he’d never made any such offer. The jury found in favor of Louisville and Petrino. One might fairly guess that today, the same jury might render a different verdict, had they known of Petrino’s behavior in 2011, which led to his firing from a later position as head coach at Arkansas, and involved hiring his 24-year old paramour as an Arkansas athletic department employee — and then getting into highly publicized motorcycle accident with her on the back of the bike.
Plaintiff Grant’s suit has triggered now-Texas coach Strong to assert that it is “meritless,” stating, “I mean, why would you give a kid five years if he isn’t playing? I have 85 scholarships. What if every kid told me when he graduated, ‘I want to continue to go to school, Coach?’ How would I fill up my other class?” Strong might’ve been slightly annoyed by Grant’s other central contention, that he had been encouraged by Strong and others at UL to cover up the fact that his injuries had been caused by an assault by two other players.
In 1993, highly-touted quarterback Brian Fortay committed by NLI to the University of Miami, but Miami coach Jimmy Johnson bolted for the NFL shortly after Fortay’s commitment. According to the lawsuit later filed by Fortay, the coach who replaced Johnson, Dennis Erikson, convinced Fortay to stay at Miami by promising, among other things, that Fortay would be the starting quarterback. Erikson also refused to release Fortay from his NLI. As it turned out, when Fortay enrolled, he “red-shirted”and then became the back-up quarterback. But Fortay’s suit was eventually settled, so that no precedent was ever set with respect to Fortay’s unusual legal claim that the oral promises made by coach Erikson ought to have been enforceable.
West Virginia’s head coach Dana Holgerson admits that “you lie in recruiting a bunch.” And players are young, and often naive — as the late Marquette coach Al McGuire commented about the recruiting of then-Virginia high-school senior (and later pro basketball star) Moses Malone: “If someone could get an hour alone with Malone they could convince him he’d be the first black astronaut on the moon.” But these cases highlight the fact that no other business in the U.S. relies on an employee recruiting process as zany, expensive, and filled with infomercial-type promises which often issue because the coach knows no one is watching. Any player should always confirm in a written email any promise made to him by any coach.