Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEWARK, N.J. — Former Seton Hall basketball coach Bobby Gonzalez sued the university Friday over his dismissal last month, claiming he was fired without cause and is owed two years of salary under terms of his contract.
The outspoken Gonzalez was fired March 17, the day after the Pirates lost 87-69 to Texas Tech in the opening round of the NIT. Seton Hall finished 19-13, its best season under Gonzalez, who departed with a 66-59 overall record and a 29-45 mark in the Big East. The Pirates failed to reach the NCAA tournament during his four years.
“Seton Hall had the right to terminate his contract, but Seton Hall doesn’t have the right to walk away from its contractual obligations to him,” said Gerald Krovatin, an attorney representing Gonzalez.
Gonzalez accompanied Krovatin to U.S. District Court on Friday, but didn’t comment on the situation except to say he was “very excited to move forward and I’m actively pursuing other options.”
University officials wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit Friday, but at the time of the firing Patrick Hobbs, the university’s law school dean who has been overseeing the athletic department since July, referred to “the conduct of those associated with the program” as a factor in the decision.
Incidents that marred the Pirates’ 2009-2010 season included:
-The arrest a week before the season started of transfer guard Keon Lawrence for driving the wrong way on the Garden State Parkway and seriously injuring another motorist. Lawrence was suspended for the season’s first eight games.
-The arrest of junior forward Robert Mitchell and former player Kelly Whitney for robbing eight people at gunpoint in mid-March, a day after Mitchell was kicked off the team by Gonzalez over a dispute about playing time.
-The ejection of forward Herb Pope for hitting a Texas Tech player below the belt in the NIT loss.
Gonzalez was “as disappointed as anyone” at the behavior, Krovatin said Friday.
Before being hired at Seton Hall, Gonzalez carved a reputation as a brash, aggressive leader as he led Manhattan of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to four 20-win seasons and two NCAA tournaments in seven years. He took over for the fired Louis Orr at Seton Hall in the spring of 2006.
The 47-year-old Gonzalez signed a contract extension through 2015 last fall. According to the lawsuit, Monsignor Robert Sheeran, Seton Hall’s president, asked Gonzalez to resign on March 17, then sent him a letter two days later notifying him the school was terminating him for cause.
The termination “was improper and without basis in law or fact,” the lawsuit alleges.
“They gave him a three-year extension,” Krovatin said Friday. “They knew the coach they had in Bobby Gonzalez, they knew who Bobby Gonzalez was. For them to turn around three months later and try to say this was a termination for cause just doesn’t fly.”
The suit charges breach of contract and seeks to recover two years of Gonzalez’ base salary. Krovatin wouldn’t specify the amount of the base salary, but said Gonzalez was the lowest-paid of the Big East’s 16 coaches.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.