Jim O’Brien won his lawsuit against Ohio State, but can anyone believe a word he says?
The former OSU basketball coach was fired in June 2004 for giving at least $6,000 to recruit Alexsandar Radojevic.
O’Brien makes two claims that are very hard to believe: First, he says the gift was a “loan.” But it’s hard to imagine that the 7-3 Radojevic planned on paying the money back.
Second, and most seriously, O’Brien claims that he knew Radojevic had forfeited his collegiate eligibility when he gave him the money (for playing briefly in a European professional league). That is as blatant of a lie as you will ever hear. “Party Poker is not a gambling site,” is easier to believe than that.
If O’Brien knew Radojevic would never play at OSU, why did he appeal the NCAA’s decision that ruled Radojevic ineligible in 1999? Why was O’Brien quoted in numerous publications at the time blasting the NCAA for its decision to not allow Radojevic to play?
So, let’s clear that up right now: It was not a “loan” as most news organizations are reporting. O’Brien was cheating. When he gave Radojevic the cash, he was definitely under the impression that the Serbian giant would play for Ohio State. In fact, O’Brien was shocked when he learned that Radojevic was ruled ineligible.
As for O’Brien actually winning his lawsuit, I’m not sure who is more to blame: Judge Joseph T. Clark for buying the bogus claims, or Ohio State’s lawyers for not doing a good enough job of proving that O’Brien was lying and knew very well that he was giving a possible future OSU player money.
In fairness to Clark, he did state that O’Brien broke his contract by giving Radojevic the money. But he added that it was not egregious enough to warrant firing. Really? Giving a recruit money is not egregious?
O’Brien did have a clause in his contract that he could only be fired after a finding of wrongdoing by the NCAA. But then-athletic director Andy Geiger made the right move. It was obvious that giving money to a prospective student-athlete was a violation and since the NCAA relies on its schools to police themselves, I see nothing wrong with OSU firing O’Brien for what was a clear violation of NCAA rules. Giving a recruit money it right up there with point shaving. If OSU found out that O’Brien was throwing games, it would have fired him on the spot, right?
For winning the case in the Ohio Court of Claims, O’Brien will become an even richer man. Quite a nice bonus for cheating. Just how much will he get? Well, he was seeking $3.5 million in lost wages and benefits after he was fired. With interest and other damages, he could receive nearly $9.5 million.
To quote the former coach: “This is sad.”
The good news is that it all worked out in the end for OSU basketball fans. The Buckeyes now have a better coach – Thad Matta. He’s a much better recruiter, more energetic, and the guess here is that he won’t do anything stupid enough to get the program placed on probation.
O’Brien was a lazy recruiter who cheated. “I don’t recruit posses,” he liked to say. OK, fair enough. But he did pull strings for players that had names that ended in “vic.”
Unless his head was buried in the sand, O’Brien knew exactly what was going on with Boban Savovic, the player that was living like a Serbian king in Gahanna with Kathleen Salyers. (I just made her day by mentioning her name in this column. She likes attention like Kimo Von Oelhoffen likes cheap shots.)
I was also surprised to learn last week that O’Brien never called his former OSU players to wish them well, or just simply to say hello. Senior center Terence Dials told me that he and O’Brien have not spoken since the day it went down. That tells you about O’Brien’s integrity right there. Here were are almost two years later and O’Brien still hasn’t tried to contact his former players. The players he brought to OSU.
The bad news for O’Brien is that I have a hard time imagining he will ever coach again. At least not a good Division I program. He has now filed lawsuits against both of his former employers, including his alma mater Boston College. Yes, O’Brien was low enough to sue his alma mater. So it’s easy to imagine how he justified giving a recruit money.