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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
Former Georgia Southern co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie have filed individual lawsuits against the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation, head football coach Tyson Summers and multiple administrators, including athletics director Tom Kleinlein, according to a USA Today story Wednesday night.
Dean and Gillespie allege that Georgia Southern breached their football contracts when they were fired in December after just one season with the school in which the Eagles struggled offensively.
"The University cannot comment on pending litigation," a Georgia Southern spokesperson wrote in an email when sought for comment.
According to the USA Today story, the lawsuit, which was filed June 21 and 22 in Fulton County Superior Court, alleges that Georgia Southern "failed to execute the 18-month contracts signed initially, then pressured them to sign shorter deals two days before their dismissal."
Dean and Gillespie signed 18-month contracts on Jan. 27, 2016, with an end-of-term date of June 30, 2017, according to USA Today. Nine months later, the coaches learned the school's Board of Regents and the athletic foundation never signed the contracts.
Citing the lawsuits, USA Today reported Summers told his assistants on Nov. 3 that new contracts were being prepared. The second contract, given to Dean and Gillespie on Nov. 16, had adjusted the end of agreement date to Feb. 28, 2017.
Among the other administrators mentioned in the suit were senior director for business operations Jeff Blythe and director of football operations Cymone George. The lawsuit alleges that in order to save money and knowing that coaching changes were coming at the end of the season, Blythe and George "conspired to change the terms of the January Contract and specifically the employment end date," according to USA Today.
Dean refused several requests from George to sign the new contract because he believed he had already signed a valid contract, USA Today cited, according to the lawsuit.
He eventually signed the new contract on Dec. 2 after claims Blythe led him to believe he could be fired any time, and that his salary and benefits would immediately cease unless he signed.
At this time, it was unclear if Summers would even return as head coach after the Eagles lost to in-state rival Georgia State, a loss that guaranteed they would not return to a bowl game despite returning 17 starters.
Hours after Georgia Southern finished its season 5-7 with an upset win over Troy on Dec. 3, Kleinlein announced that Summers would return for the 2017 season. The next day, Dean and Gillespie were fired.
Dean is now the head coach at Division II West Georgia, and Gillespie is the head coach at Hart County High School.
In 2015, the Eagles led the nation in rushing and won their first bowl game in program history at the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., before Gillespie and Dean were hired by then-new coach Summers. Dean and Gillespie moved away from the Eagles' traditional triple-option offense, and Georgia Southern's rushing total declined by more than 2,000 yards. The Eagles ranked 101st in the nation in total offense in 2016.
Summers transferred play-calling duties from Gillespie to Dean midway through the season, but the Eagles still struggled to find identity.
On Dec. 1, the Savannah Morning News made an open records request to Georgia Southern University's Office of Legal Affairs requesting copies of the contracts between the university and Dean and Gillespie.
"We do not have signed contracts for the assistant football coaches at this time," Geoffrey Carson, an associate university attorney at Georgia Southern, replied to the request via email.
Haisten Willis, a freelance reporter writing for SB Nation, told the Savannah Morning News on Wednesday night that he made an open records request to Georgia Southern for copies of the contracts on Oct. 7.
According to email records, the reporter received a response on Oct. 12 from Carson saying, "We do not have contracts, but the annual salaries of the requested coaches are as follows."
Gillespie was paid an annual salary of $165,000, and Dean was paid $150,000.
The reporter responded by asking if Dean and Gillespie were at-will employees who had not signed contracts. Carson then said formal contracts were in the process of being completed and that he would send them to the reporter upon completion.
Willis said he never received the contracts.
Georgia law requires public universities to respond to open records requests within 90 days, and public records can only be withheld through specific exemptions.
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