Tennessee Titans Sue USC Over Assistant Coach

Last week, I was a guest on The Sports Zone with George and Willy on Nashville’s 104.5 to discuss the lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Titans against USC arising from the Trojans’ hiring of Titans running backs coach Kennedy Pola.  Here’s a summary of the points that we discussed.

Why did the Titans sue?

Timing and respect.  If USC had hired Pola away from the Titans at the beginning of the offseason, the Titans wouldn’t have objected.  Plenty of coaching talent would have been available and interested in the Titans’ running backs coach position.  But USC’s hiring Pola on the eve of training camp leaves the Titans in a difficult position. 

As for the respect factor, the business of sports includes some unique traditions.  For example, coaching contracts are largely ignored in college athletics when coaches jump from school to school.  In the NFL, a contract typically will not stand in the way of a coach interviewing for, or accepting, a promotion with another team.  Nevertheless, teams commonly ask for permission to speak with another team’s coach.    In fact, Pola’s contract required written permission from the Titans to leave while under contract.  Lane Kiffin allegedly ignored the courtesy of requesting permission to speak with Pola.  The Titans have put other teams and on notice to respect their contractual relationships with their coaches.  Kiffin, of course,  posits a third reason for the suit: location.

Can the Titans prove damages?

It will be difficult.  The Titans will have to prove actual damages, not merely speculative damages.  Placing a price on losing a head coach would be difficult, but not impossible.  An assistant coach and especially a position coach is another story.  Finding objective measures of the value to the contributions of a running backs coach presents a unique and seemingly impossible challenge. 

What influence did Marist v. JMU have upon this suit?

It’s hard to believe that legal action taken by a mid-major in Poughkeepsie, New York influenced the Tennessee Titans.  However, the Marist case may have planted the seed for tortious interference claims in the world of college coaching.  The previously accepted norms in college coaching are shifting, as shown by West Virginia v. Rodriguez, the BC-Jagodzinski situation, and Marist v. JMU

Upon signing a contract extension at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t so much as commit to being at the school the following season:

“Nobody has promised that…I’m not going to write anything in blood on a stone tablet.” 

Universities and professional teams may now seek to change this attitude towards coaching contracts.

For more on this topic, see Michael McCann’s analysis on the Sports Law Blog.


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  1. [...] The University of Southern California (USC) and the Tennessee Titans have settled their lawsuit over USC’s hiring of running backs coach Kennedy Pola while he was under contract with the Titans.  The terms of the settlement are confidential.  Despite the quiet end to this suit, the legal issues involved in this case are intriguing.  I covered a few of these issues involving college coaching contracts last year in the post Tennessee Titans Sue USC Over Assistant Coach. [...]

  2. [...] judgment of default was entered against JMU in this case, a much higher profile dispute surfaced.  The parent company of the Tennessee Titans, Tennessee Football Inc., brought suit against the Univer….  The Titans allege that USC and Kiffin interfered with the team’s contract with Pola, which [...]

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