Mike Anderson, the former head coach of St. John’s men’s basketball team, has filed a $45.6 million lawsuit against the school after it hired Rick Pitino as his replacement.
Anderson, who was fired in March 2021, claims that St. John’s breached his contract and acted in bad faith when it terminated his employment without cause and replaced him with Pitino. According to the lawsuit, Anderson’s contract required the school to pay him a buyout of $15.5 million if he was terminated without cause before the end of his five-year term.
However, Anderson alleges that St. John’s made a series of false and disparaging statements about his performance as head coach in an effort to justify his termination without cause and avoid paying the buyout. The lawsuit also claims that the school failed to engage in good-faith negotiations over the terms of Anderson’s departure and buyout.
In addition to seeking the full amount of his buyout, Anderson’s lawsuit also seeks additional damages for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit names St. John’s University, its board of trustees, and several individual administrators and athletic department officials as defendants.
Anderson, who was hired in April 2019, had a 39-28 record in two seasons with St. John’s. The team finished in seventh place in the Big East Conference in both seasons and failed to make the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament during his tenure.
Pitino, who was hired by St. John’s in March 2021, has a long and successful coaching career that includes two national championships and multiple conference championships at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. However, he has also been involved in several high-profile scandals, including a sex-for-pay scandal involving a former assistant coach at Louisville that resulted in his firing in 2017.
The lawsuit by Anderson is just the latest example of the high-stakes and often contentious world of college basketball coaching changes. Coaches are frequently fired or leave for better jobs, and schools often face significant financial and legal consequences as a result.
However, some analysts have questioned whether Anderson’s lawsuit is likely to succeed. Legal experts have noted that buyout provisions in coaching contracts are typically enforced in courts, but defamation claims can be difficult to prove and damages for emotional distress can be difficult to quantify.
It remains to be seen how the lawsuit will play out, but one thing is clear: the world of college basketball coaching is never dull, and the consequences of hiring and firing coaches can be significant for schools, coaches, and players alike.