Titans' Lawsuit Against Lane Kiffin: The Dirty Details
Now let's dive into a complaint that is sure to burn a few bridges between USC alum Jeff Fisher and his alma mater, while at the same time becoming the greatest public relations move in the history of any NFL franchise. First, the Titans allege that Kennedy Pola breached his contract. (Breach is a legal term that effectively means "violated" or "broke.") But they aren't suing Pola, at least not yet, for breaching that employment contract. Instead, they are suing USC and Kiffin for causing the breach by inducing and interfering with that contract.
Per the complaint, Kiffin first contacted Pola about the job offer on Friday, July 23rd (the complaint says the 22nd, but Friday was actually the 23rd) when he called Pola, then located in Nashville, and offered him the job of offensive coordinator and running backs coach at USC. Pola breached his Titans employment contract by engaging in contract discussions with another party and not obtaining the written consent of the Tennessee Titans prior to doing so. In particular, the Titans note that even a verbal consent would have been insufficient under the terms of his contract. By Saturday, July 24th, Pola had accepted the job with USC, and the Titans were furious.
The complaint asserts that Kiffin and USC were aware of the Pola contract. Utilizing charged language, the Titans also assert in the complaint that Kiffin and USC have "a culture of violation and avoidance of respect." The Titans cite the Pola hiring as the latest in what they term a "course of pattern of conduct fostered by Kiffin and USC to use improper methods and means to the direct harm and damage to parties of contracts." Indeed, the Titans assert that Kiffin had previously hired four other coaches under contract inside the state of Tennessee: former Volunteers assistants Monte Kiffin, James Cregg, Willie Mack Garza and Ed Orgeron. Per the Titans, this is the fifth incident in which Lane Kiffin has hired away someone employed under an existing contract.
As a result of USC and Kiffin's actions, the Titans assert that they have been damaged by Pola's being hired away "less than one week prior to Tennessee Football's training camp, disrupting its season planning and coordinated effort among its coaches, causing potential loss of confidence by its players, and causing extensive monetary losses consisting of salary and benefits paid to Pola since the commencement of the Pola contract, and future damage."
The first count of the lawsuit, inducement of breach of contract, is filed pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 47-50-109 which states: "It is unlawful for any person, by inducement, persuasion, misrepresentation, or other means, to induce or procure the breach or violation, refusal or failure to perform any lawful contract by any party thereto; and, in every case where a breach or violation of such contract is so procured, the person so procuring or inducing the same shall be liable in treble the amount of damages resulting from or incident to the breach of the contract. The party injured by such breach may bring suit for the breach and for such damages."
The second count is a common law tort.
The next step in the case will be the Tennessee Titans serving the complaint upon Kiffin and USC via mail. Upon receipt USC and Kiffin would then have 30 days to answer or file a motion to dismiss. Further, it's likely that Kiffin and USC will move for an extension and it will likely be 45-90 days before Kiffin and USC file their response.
At this point expect Kiffin and USC to deny everything and they could possibly file a counterclaim against the Titans. A motion to dismiss is unlikely to be granted given that the complaint has been drafted by solid attorneys and both sides would then move to written discovery.
Which is where things could get really interesting.
Per Tennessee attorney Chris Tardio (full disclosure: a classmate and friend of mine) who has previously litigated a case featuring these same claims, "They better get a protective order. Because if they don't all of the texts, e-mails, phone calls, and any other written correspondence between Kiffin and Pola would become public if filed."
In propounding discovery, the Titans would be seeking concrete evidence that Kiffin and USC conspired to hire away Pola in contravention of the contract. The next step would be a deposition which would require Lane Kiffin, Kennedy Pola, and Jeff Fisher to sit for intense questioning from opposing counsel.
Asked why the Titans were likely to have filed suit, Tardio replied, "Two reasons: First, they may want to send a message to Kiffin and the rest of the NFL that they can't be walked all over when it comes to the coaches they have under contract. Second, as a public relations move. I just don't see any way that they could be trying to make money off this case through their damages."
"I think sometimes," Tardio continued, "people file lawsuits believing that they move faster than they actually do. You're talking a year or two, if ever, before this case came to trial."
Reached for comment, the attorneys representing the Titans declined comment.
So let me comment on what this lawsuit means as a bottom line business: Titans coach Jeff Fisher absolutely hates USC coach Lane Kiffin.
And here's a prediction, this hatefest is going to get a whole hell of a lot uglier before anything is resolved.