Today in an Orange County, Florida Circuit Court an interesting lawsuit was filed against the University of Central Florida Athletics Department as well as the UCF Board of Trustees. The plaintiff is former defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro who held the job for all of two months this offseason before leaving for “personal reasons.” Well now we know what the means.
Before typing anything further, I will disclose I am a UCF fan and UCF alum. However that doesn’t make me a blind supporter of everything Knights. I can easily dislike something about them and tell you about it. But since this is UCF, I am obviously more interested than most so I went ahead and read the lawsuit in full.
And that said, the lawsuit doesn’t look all that …. interesting. While the narrative and the “sexy” buzz-worthy notes in this thing are undoubtedly the alleged racist terms O’Leary used in Ferraro’s presence, that is not the point of the lawsuit. Rather the real focus surrounds Ferraro not wanting to install the defense O’Leary wanted and allegedly getting bullied/berated in the process to the point he didn’t want the job anymore (or at least in this environment). This lawsuit is about an alleged breach of contract.
Here are the key things/timelines worth knowing, with my paraphrasing for the sake of simplicity:
- In 2013, UCF was rather good. As things go when non power schools are good, coaches will get poached. Defensive coordinator Jim Fleming parlayed UCF’s success into a head coaching position at the University of Rhode Island.
- Between the regular season and the Fiesta Bowl, which UCF would win against Baylor, UCF would hire Paul Ferraro as Fleming’s replacement.
- During the interview process, O’Leary said he wanted a “simple” defense – much more simple than Fleming’s current one.
- For the sake of continuity, Ferraro would not coach UCF’s defense in any capacity until after the bowl game.
- Tyson Summers steps in as interim DC and UCF holds the ridiculous Baylor offense well under all of its season averages on the way to the Fiesta Bowl win.
- As Ferraro comes back to coach and get started in the offseason, O’Leary micromanages the defense and wants something closer to the successful 2013 system and not the “simple” system Ferraro was planning to install.
- O’Leary berates/bullies Ferraro when he isn’t getting what he wants from Ferraro’s defensive scheme plans.
So I’ll stop here for a second. Essentially this is a case of an employee nailing the interview, getting to the job and the boss maybe changing his mind and going in a slightly different direction once the job starts. He then tells the employee the new direction and the employee would rather do what he originally wanted to do. RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU’VE LIVED THIS SCENARIO!!! :::raises hand:::
I’ve had the pleasure of watching O’Leary at practices and let’s just say he doesn’t keep very quiet when someone makes a mistake. He’s loud and he makes it very well known to everyone in the building who just screwed up. And this isn’t the first time his “berating nature” has made the press. Back in 2008, former quarterback Steven Moffett spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about how he treated players harshly (sorry I couldn’t find a link to the full achieved article). So you know that going in. The guy is a old school hard ass.
So picking back up with Ferraro. He had choices to make. He could do what his boss wants or he could continue to do what he thought was best and hope it dies down. Spoiler alert: he did the latter and no it didn’t.
- O’Leary continues to berate him in front of coaches
- Ferraro at some point basically flees. He writes an e-mail to all of the coaches, as reported by USA Today: “No longer will I put up with your constant verbal abuse of both our coaching and support staff,” the email said in part, according to a copy attached to the suit. “Threatening coaches on a regular basis with their jobs and racial slurs mixed in to make a point is wrong.”
- He files a complaint with the school that even in the lawsuit he admits he didn’t share these “racial slurs” within said complaint
- Ferraro basically says he is leaving but not resigning. He goes to Maine and won’t come back until his complaints are addressed.
- Paul Ferraro is replaced by Fiesta Bowl interim coordinator Tyson Summers.
- Time goes on
Somewhere mixed in all of this is the alleged racial slurs, which when you understand the meat of the lawsuit really do nothing to add to the complaint other than to make it more damaging to O’Leary’s character vs. proving actual wrongdoing. And about those slurs O’Leary allegedly used in front of everyone? No one can corroborate them.
According to a UCF spokesperson, per Deadspin:
“None of the individuals alleged to have been the subject of, or to have overheard, these supposed statements corroborated Mr. Ferraro’s claims. In fact, until seeking compensation after abandoning his job, it does not appear he ever discussed this with anyone at UCF.”
Another note about the slurs…I just want to note I have never heard of any of them. That isn’t to say they aren’t offensive nor will I condone them, but at the very least they are certainly outdated. Here they are straight from the lawsuit so you can judge for yourself…
27. Some of the discriminatory remarks were uttered about FERRARO in his
presence and concerned his Italian heritage. Specifically, O’Leary called FERRARO a
28. O’Leary also made discriminatory remarks about African-Americans and
persons of Jewish descent. Specifically, when discussing with O’Leary the possible hire
of an African-American coach if Summers left for a position at the University of Georgia
(as was rumored at the time), the conversation turned to UCF not having an African–
American coach on the defensive staff.
29. O’Leary stated, “if we can find one [an African-American coach], hire
one,” but that “all those coons are in the NFL. It’s [the NFL] one big ‘Ru-Ru’ tribe.”
30. While in O’Leary’s office the following week, O’Leary stated to
FERRARO that he had spoken with a former assistant, who is now a head coach in the
NFL, and that he (O’Leary) had advised his former assistant that, while at the upcoming
NFL combine in Indianapolis, to “check the [African-American] players to make sure
that their gums are blue, because they are bigger, faster and stronger than [African-
American] players with red gums.”
So bottom line? I think George O’Leary is a grumpy 68 year old Irish-decedent football coach. He has a dry humor, can easily come off as an asshole if you just read his quotes, and is known to get in people’s faces. He’s no newcomer to scandal or controversy and so this lawsuit plays into that narrative.
But, in a vacuum, the lawsuit itself? Sounds like a case of an employee who couldn’t adjust to demands of his boss and got crushed for it – continuously. O’Leary may be a harsh sonofabitch…but football culture is something else that no outsiders, myself included, will ever really be able to “get” or understand. If we pulled back the curtain on locker rooms everywhere I’m sure we wouldn’t like what we saw and it sounds like Ferraro just didn’t like what he saw behind UCF’s curtain.
And fair or not, filing lawsuits against mainstay coaches in this line of work probably won’t end well for Paul Ferraro. If UCF let this lawsuit get this far to the point it would be released publicly, then they are confident it is without merit. So confident they are willing to endure yet another PR (k)nightmare.
[Photo credit: 247sports]
Brad Epstein’s day job is being a marketing guy in Atlanta. He is also an American Outlaw and college dodgeball champion. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMEpstein