Bradley University violated Kent State’s contract with former coach, judge rules

Geno Ford. Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Geno Ford. Photo courtesy of Kent State University.

Kent State had another victory in the lawsuit against former men’s basketball head coach Geno Ford and Bradley University. Last Wednesday, a Portage County judge ruled in summary judgment that Bradley “intentionally interfered” with Kent State’s contract with Ford, and is liable for damages.

A jury will decide what damages Bradley must pay Kent State, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who appointed Akron law firm Roderick Linton Belfance to represent the university in the case. Kent State had asked Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow to award $1.6 million in damages, but Enlow ruled that the damages “must be proven at trial,” according to court documents.

Earlier this month, Kent State won $1.2 million in damages against Ford after Enlow ruled that Ford breached his contract when he left in March 2011 to take the head coaching position at Bradley.

According to the decision, Ford had no permission to end his contract, which would have expired in 2015. Kent State filed suit against Ford and Bradley in April 2011, and the case against Bradley is set for trial on Oct. 7.

Kent State had no comment on the court’s decision since litigation with Bradley remains active, said university spokesman Eric Mansfield. Bradley’s attorney Bill Kohlhase maintained that Bradley’s actions and Ford’s actions “have been entirely ethical, legal and transparent.”

According to the lawsuit, Bradley received permission from Kent State Athletics Director Joel Nielsen to talk to Ford following the 2010-2011 basketball season. But Enlow ruled, “consent to interview is not consent to hire.”

“We have a duty to protect our public colleges and universities from third parties that try to undermine or interfere with their contracts,” DeWine said in a statement. “When a university disregards those contracts and knowingly poaches another school’s coach, that university must be held accountable.”

Kent State hired Ford in April 2008 for a five-year term at $200,000 per year. In April 2010, the university and Ford agreed to extend his employment through the 2014-2015 season and increase his annual salary to $300,000 — making Ford the highest-paid basketball coach in the Mid-American Conference.

In March 2011, Ford accepted the position at Bradley after he led Kent State to its second consecutive MAC regular-season title. In his three seasons at Kent State, Ford’s teams went 68-37.

Contact Jessica White at [email protected].