June 30, 2016

Mostly clear

Kent State wins $1.2 million suit against ex-coach

AKRON — A Portage County judge has awarded Kent State $1.2 million because its former men’s basketball coach breached his contract.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday that Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow had granted KSU’s request for summary judgment against Geno Ford.

Geno Ford

“When coaches and high-profile employees leave public universities in breach of their contracts, the state of Ohio has an obligation to seek the compensation to which it is entitled,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a news release.

Ford, 38, did not return a call seeking comment. His attorney, Fritz Byers of Toledo, had no comment.

KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield said the university would not comment because the university is continuing to sue Ford’s new employer, the private, independent Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

KSU sought liquidated damages from Ford when he announced in March 2011 that he would leave to become the basketball coach at Bradley.

In his three years as coach at Kent State, Ford led the team to a 68-37 record and twice won the Mid-American Conference.

The university renegotiated his contract in 2010, increasing his salary by half to $300,000 and making him the highest paid basketball coach in the conference.

His renegotiated contract included a clause that if Ford or KSU canceled the agreement before March 31, 2015, the other party would get the balance of the base salary remaining in Ford’s contract.

While Ford more than doubled his base salary with the move to Bradley — from $300,000 to $700,000 — he also triggered the liquidated damages clause.

KSU expected to be compensated for the remaining four years on Ford’s contract: $300,000 for four years, or $1.2 million.

When the money wasn’t paid, Kent State filed a lawsuit in Portage County Common Pleas Court a month later, seeking $1.2 million.

In a written statement at the time, Ford expressed regret that the dispute had reached the courts.

“During the process, everything was handled professionally and appropriately,” Ford said. “It is unfortunate that this has turned into a legal matter. I look forward to a quick resolution.”

While KSU’s then-Athletic Director Laing Kennedy gave Ford permission to talk to other sports programs, that did not cancel the contract, Enlow said in his ruling.

“Consent to interview was not a consent to breach the employment agreement.”

KSU also recovered damages from Ford’s predecessor. When basketball coach Jim Christian left in 2008 for a similar job at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Kent State received about $350,000, according to news accounts.

Mansfield could not confirm the payback amount.

Meanwhile, KSU continues to seek monetary damages from Bradley University. A jury trial has been scheduled for Oct. 7 in the Portage County court.

The attorney general’s office appointed the Akron law firm of Roderick Linton Belfance to represent Kent State.