Friday, May 28, 2010

Taking the low road at the

University of Minnesota...

By yon bonnie banks,

And by yon bonnie braes,

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,

Where me and my true love

Were ever want to gae,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Oh! ye'll take the high road and

I'll take the low road,

And I'll be in Scotland afore ye ...

This article pretty much says it all about the Jimmy Williams situation.

From College Basketball:

[Please note that this version has been slightly edited to make some corrections and fix a few obvious errors..]

Few problems get better by failing to address them early. Here’s a case in point where sometimes the “right” decision creates unintended consequences if the process is not handled well.

The University of Minnesota was just handed a legal defeat when a jury awarded 1.25 million to would-be assistant mens basketball coach Jimmy Williams. Williams claimed that Smith offered him an assistant coach position, after being named to the head coach job at Minnesota in 2007. Following the verbal receipt of the offer, Williams accepted the offer, immediately quit his job at Oklahoma State ... put his house on the market and prepared to move to Minnesota to join the Gophers staff.

Shortly after Williams’ acceptance, Tubby Smith met with Athletic Director Joel Maturi to inform him of his choice of Williams. Maturi performed a background check and it showed that Williams had been hit with NCAA violations in the past – at Minnesota — when he was an assistant coach under Bill Musselman many years ago. So Maturi told Smith that Williams was unacceptable for the role, given his track record.

So now Smith had a dilemma. Did he inform his new boss that he just extended an offer that Williams accepted and that Williams has resigned his post at Oklahoma State to join Minnesota? Did he acknowledge there’s a problem he’s created for Williams and the University by extending an offer that apparently he didn’t have the authority to extend? By all accounts, the answers were “No." So what did Smith do? He left Williams hanging. Radio silence. Didn’t initiate communication with Williams. Didn’t return Williams’ calls. Precious time ticks off the clock. Smith was incommunicado. And Williams becomes a man on an island.

On May 26, the University of Minnesota, following the jury’s verdict, issued a press release that the “university respectfully disagrees” with the findings of the courts. They state that refusing Jimmy Williams’ employment as assistant coach was the right call.

Yes, it was the right call, but how the University handled Williams was shoddy and disrespectful, and evidently illegal.

... the low road they took to handling Williams put them in the predicament they find themselves in today.

When a problem with Williams’s background was surfaced, shouldn’t there have been immediate communication to him, letting him know there was a problem, so that he could potentially recover his position with OSU? And if that wasn’t possible, shouldn’t Minnesota have taken the high road and at least internally acknowledged the facts?

The fact that Smith had offered a position which was accepted by Williams? And now the offer must be rescinded given the findings of the investigation.

It would have been much cheaper and efficient to have dealt with the situation in 2007, possibly even entering into a small settlement with Williams, rather than have a 63 year old man who has been unemployed without health insurance since that time take the witness stand to a sympathetic jury in 2010.

I think the University of Minnesota got what they deserved. They botched the process, took the low road and tried to sweep the affair under the carpet. They tried legalese and they weasel-worded their position. They acted with low integrity and showed no accountability. Williams deserved to be dealt with respectfully, candidly, and in a timely fashion.

Even if your position is correct, you still have to attend to the details and take the high road. Leaders have to have the tough discussions, make tough decisions and sometimes have difficult conversations with others who are impacted by their decisions.

Sadly, the behavior exhibited here is not restricted to the Department of Athletics. The Morrill Hall Gang and the Academic Health Center have also taken the low road on numerous occasions, as has been documented frequently on this blog.


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