BATON ROUGE La. – Grambling State University broke its contract with football coach Melvin Spears Jr. when it fired him in late 2006 and owes him $460,500 plus $130,000 for his attorneys, a Louisiana jury decided.
The East Baton Rouge Parish jury, which handed down the verdict on Friday, rejected Spears’ claim that the university defamed him.
Spears, 51, guided Grambling to the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Black college national titles in 2005. He was named coach at Alcorn State University earlier this year.
“It’s a great opportunity to be vindicated. I’m elated,” Spears told The Advocate newspaper after the verdict.
Grambling attorney John Madison Jr. said the university will appeal the award, which includes $11,000 in penalty wages and $449,500 for breach of contract. Spears’ attorney, Wade Shows, said legal interest will bring the total to nearly $724,500.
Spears was named Grambling’s interim head coach in 2004, after former coach Doug Williams took a front-office job with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team was 6-5 in Spears’ initial season, 11-1 in 2005, and 3-8 in 2006. Spears was fired that December.
His termination letter stated that “your unclassified at-will employment … will officially end at the close of business on Dec. 31. 2006,” according to the lawsuit filed in 2007. Shows argued that Spears was fired without cause, violating a contract that still had three years left at $156,000 a year.
Madison said an NCAA investigation of the program under Spears gave former president Horace Judson cause to fire the coach. Judson had “had it up to here” with Spears, Madison said.
In fall 2007, the NCAA cleared Grambling of any significant wrongdoing, citing the school for five secondary offenses during Spears’ tenure.