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This all started with a request for an apology, but it has become much more than that.
Thomas Mars, an attorney representing former Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt, says he sought one from Ole Miss multiple times on behalf of his client in March. But he has yet to receive one for what Mars alleges was a misinformation campaign the school led against Nutt in January 2016.
Now the two sides are locked in a bitter legal dispute, which includes one lawsuit and potentially another.
Despite all that, Mars told Yahoo Sports on Monday that Nutt would still accept an apology from Ole Miss, but not without reasonable compensation.
So the question is what would Nutt deem as suitable compensation? It depends, Mars told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.
"It's difficult to answer that question without knowing when that might happen, if ever, and what other significant evidence we'll develop in the meantime," Mars said. "Just in the past few weeks, for instance, we unexpectedly uncovered some very relevant and helpful evidence that we weren't even looking for at the time. That information, and any other new evidence we find, would factor into our calculations of what we'd consider reasonable compensation for Coach Nutt."
Nutt's Arkansas-based attorney has already caused the school plenty of embarrassment with his discovery of a call made to an escort service from the cellphone of former coach Hugh Freeze. Mars says he's not done digging for information.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss doesn't sound as if it will apologize anytime soon.
"Generally, in legal proceedings, the University of Mississippi allows its formal court filings to speak on its behalf," Alice Clark, vice chancellor of university relations, said in a statement to The Clarion-Ledger. "But to be clear, this case has no merit, and there is no reason to apologize. Further, it is clear Mr. Nutt's suit seeks far more than an apology."
Nutt filed his lawsuit — citing breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing — against Ole Miss, its athletics foundation and the Institutions of Higher Learning's board of trustees July 12.
The initial complaint by Nutt was centered on phone calls made by Freeze, Ross Bjork and Kyle Campbell, Ole Miss' associate athletics director for communications, to journalists regarding Nutt and the NCAA's probe into the football program.
Mars' discovery of the phone call to an escort service, found through a public records request, has already led to Ole Miss losing its coach two weeks before camp.
Mars says he has requested and received Bjork's phone records from Jan. 29 and 30, 2016. Last week, Mars and Ole Miss got locked in a standoff over the rest of Freeze's phone records, and Mars said he is prepared to take more legal action.
Bjork was recently asked if he could do it all over again, would he apologize to Nutt?
"That's a whole another sort of layer to this whole thing," Bjork said. "I know the conversations that were had in that time period and we'll just kind of leave it at that at this point."
While the university has kept a low profile responding to the case publicly, it and the IHL board of trustees filed a request for a motion to dismiss last week.
Mars and the university have locked horns over a public records request of Freeze's phone records from June 2012 through mid-July of this year.
The university told Mars on Friday it would cost an estimated $25,100 to produce Freeze's records. The reason being, the university says, is because it would need the assistance of outside counsel to go through and redact personal calls.
The Clarion-Ledger has requested Freeze's cellphone records from January 2012 to July 20, 2017, and was told by the university's counsel that cost of responding to the request "will be high."
Mars claims Ole Miss has no legal basis for not producing the documents or requesting that he pay $25,100.
Should no middle ground be found, Mars has threatened to take Ole Miss to court.
"We wish it hadn't come to this, but Houston's not to blame for this mess. And as much as he dislikes this process, he's mindful that Ole Miss could have prevented this parade of horribles," Mars said.
"He's entrusted Bubba Morrison and I to press on until Ole Miss steps up and clears his name or until we clear his name without their help.
"It's their choice."
Morales reports for The Clarion-Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network.
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