Former USC football coach Steve Sarkisian, firing back at the university’s attempt to put a hold on the lawsuit he filed over his firing, says he was rushed into signing his Trojan contract by Athletic Director Pat Haden in 2013 and knew nothing about its provision requiring arbitration of disputes.
Sarkisian, who was the coach of the University of Washington Huskies before being hired by USC, was fired in October — one day after being placed on indefinite leave by the university amid rumors of continuing troubles with alcohol.
At one point during the negotiations for the USC coaching job, “Haden told me to tell (Sarkisian agent) Mr. (Gary) Uberstine to hurry up and complete the negotiations so that I could sign the contract,” Sarkisian says in a sworn statement submitted in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday. “Based on his demeanor and words, Haden acted antsy and upset.”
Sarkisian says he signed a “long-form contract” on Dec. 2, 2013, with USC that was sent to him by Uberstine.
“I did not sign any arbitration agreement attached to that head coach contract,” Sarkisian says.
The ex-Trojan coach says he does not remember signing any document with the words “agreement to arbitrate claims” in the title as alleged by USC.
Sarkisian’s lawyers state in their court papers that even if a judge finds an arbitration agreement was formed, it should not be enforced because it unfairly favors the interests of USC.
Sarkisian also says he never received any legal advice regarding the alleged arbitration agreement, which the university is seeking to enforce and place a stay on the lawsuit via a motion filed Jan. 6. A hearing is scheduled March 2 before Judge John Doyle.
Sarkisian, 41, sued USC on Dec. 7. His allegations include breach of contract, discrimination based on disability, failure to accommodate him for his disability and retaliation.
Sarkisian is owed at least $12.6 million under his head coach contract and a marketing agreement, according to his court papers. He held the job from December 2013 until Oct. 12.
USC General Counsel Carol Mauch Amir has called the bulk of the allegations “patently untrue.”
“While the university does not as a matter of practice comment on personnel matters or litigation, the record will show that Mr. Sarkisian repeatedly denied to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol, never asked for time off to get help and resisted university efforts to provide him with help,” Amir said previously.
“The university made clear in writing that further incidents would result in termination, as it did,” Amir said. “We are profoundly disappointed in how Mr. Sarkisian has mischaracterized the facts and we intend to defend these claims vigorously.”
Sarkisian’s lawsuit states the former coach is now sober after undergoing an “intensive rehabilitation program” that has made him ready to return to coaching.
Sarkisian’s struggles became public during USC’s annual “Salute to Troy” preseason pep rally on Aug. 22, when the seemingly intoxicated coach slurred his words during a speech to the crowd, criticizing several opposing teams and used an expletive before uttering the USC rally call, “Fight On.”
Haden immediately rebuked the coach, with various reports saying the athletic director verbally berated Sarkisian after he was pulled off the stage. Sarkisian publicly apologized the next day, saying without elaboration that his behavior resulted from mixing alcohol and medication.
“I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night,” Sarkisian said then. “I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again.”
— Wire reports