BATON ROUGE – Every now and then, the good guys win. And the bad guys lose.
Such is the case with former LSU offensive line coach James Cregg.
Cregg was wrongly fired June 2, 2021, by then-LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, who was on the hot seat after a 5-5 season. Cregg was replaced with Arkansas offensive line coach Brad Davis just two days later.
That hire seemed awful fast and suspicious. And the fact Orgeron was already talking to Davis before he fired Cregg was a key part of Cregg’s lawsuit against LSU for his wrongful firing and breach of contract that was filed Aug. 20, 2021.
“That was a tremendous part,” Cregg’s attorney Chris Whittington of Baton Rouge told OutKick on Friday night in reference to the quick hire of Davis. “The Court specifically referenced that in the reasons for the ruling.”
Not so fast, LSU.
Cregg won the case, according to a ruling Thursday by Baton Rouge 19th district judge Wilson Fields. His prize is $492,945 in salary he would have earned from June 2021, through June 2022, when his contract expired. Cregg’s salary was $700,000 a year in 2021-22. About $200,000 of that was subtracted as he got a new job in February as an assistant offensive line coach with the San Francisco 49ers.
But LSU has caused short term damage to Cregg’s earning power. His salary in his new job with the 49ers is $300,000 – less than half of what he made at LSU. Whittington argued that in court, but lost that part for now.
“The Court denied that claim and, with respect to the Court, Coach Cregg is considering an appeal on that issue,” Whittington said.
Cregg, 49, is in the NFL for the fourth time. NFL experience was one of the reasons he was one of the best offensive line coaches LSU has ever had. He came to the Tigers in 2018 after coaching offensive lines with Oakland, Denver and the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL in addition to Tennessee and USC in the college ranks.
His unit in the 2019 national championship season won the Joe Moore Award that goes to the naton’s best offensive line. LSU had never won that award.
But suddenly, Cregg was fired on June 2, 2021, after admitting he broke NCAA rules by giving five-star offensive tackle Tristan Leigh of Fairfax, Virginia, some LSU gear while recruiting him in 2020.
Oh my God! He gave a prospect something with LSU on it. That’s not even a good NIL deal now. Leigh signed with Clemson and remains there as a redshirt freshman this season.
FIRE JAMES CREGG, AND KEEP WILL WADE?
Meanwhile at that time, LSU basketball coach Will Wade was being investigated by the NCAA for paying cash to several recruits, paying cash to the fiancee of a recruit to keep quiet about his payments to various student-athletes and paying third parties to recruit players. He was also being investigated for funneling money from a bank account in his and his wife’s name to a recruit.
The NCAA concluded its investigation of Wade last March and issued a notice of allegations to LSU that included eight of the most serious violations – Level 1. The NCAA said Wade “concealed evidence” and “lied to NCAA officials,” and the NCAA charged him with “unethical conduct” while saying his “cheating was planned, schemed and purposeful.”
The NCAA said Wade “offered inducements to secure prospective student-athletes commitments to LSU and paid for their services.”
And LSU hypocritically let Wade keep coaching and earning his salary amid a pile of major allegations from March of 2019 when his “strong-ass offer” comment came out regarding his recruitment of top point guard Javonte Smart until the notice of allegations in 2022.
The same NCAA dragnet of Wade included LSU’s football program and its alleged recruiting violations. But Cregg was not named in that voluminous NCAA notice of allegations last March, even though he had already been fired for giving a kid a T-Shirt, or something.
The NCAA concluded its investigation of both programs by saying “LSU failed to exercise institutional control and monitor its football and men’s basketball programs.”
LSU’s NCAA hearing is expected in the coming months.
The football end of the violations included a Level 1 violation – payments of $180,000 to the father of former LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander (2012-15). The less serious violations involved former receiver Odell Beckham Jr. handing out $2,000 in cash to LSU players moments after they beat Clemson in the 2019 national championship game and Orgeron’s improper contact with a prospect in early 2019. Orgeron didn’t get fired for that contact.
But Orgeron fired Cregg for what was also a minor violation. And the judge Thursday agreed with Cregg and his attorney’s assessment that the NCAA never informed LSU that Cregg had committed any violation. LSU just wanted this guy out, which is amazing considering the coaches like Wade and others that LSU has kept and brought back.
DID LSU WANT TO JUST LOOK GOOD FOR THE NCAA?
Orgeron may have been following orders from LSU powers that be, such as athletic director Scott Woodward and LSU’s executive deputy athletic director at the time – Stephanie Rempe, who is now Nevada’s athletic director. Did LSU fire Cregg because it desperately wanted to do something to look good at the time in the eyes of the NCAA, which was still nearly a year away from ruling on the case?
“Yes,” Whittington said. “Because Stephanie Rempe and Scott Woodward testified that LSU was under the NCAA microscope for NCAA investigations unrelated to Coach Cregg. As a result, they took a punitive position against Coach Cregg.”
Firing Wade sooner rather than later could have have been better for LSU’s impending sentencing. Firing Cregg was a pitiful mistake that likely did not help LSU’s case at all.
“Hey, our basketball coach is throwing money around like a gangster, but look we just fired our offensive line coach for giving out a T-shirt,” LSU was basically saying.
If someone did tell Orgeron to fire Cregg, shame on Orgeron for not standing up for one of his best assistants. Cregg coached with Orgeron at Tennessee in 2009 and at USC from 2010-13.
“It was Coach O more than anything why I came down here” Cregg said about leaving the Chargers for LSU before the LSU-Clemson national title game. “I knew that he was destined to do what he’s doing. I knew his blueprint. And it’s working.”
LSU’s offensive line made incremental improvement under Cregg from 2018 to 2019, which is what coaching is all about.
“One of the most improved areas on our team all season has been the offensive line,” Orgeron said before that national title game. “Coach Cregg started turning things around as soon as he got here.”
And as soon as he left, LSU’s offensive line got worse. Yes, the Tigers’ line incrementally dropped in talent from 2019 to 2020, to 2021, and likely will not be great this season. But it is not a reach to say it would’ve been better last year under Cregg. The timing of the firing was particularly stupid. Davis was hired several weeks after spring practice. The line didn’t seem remotely together until mid-season.
“Personally, I wish we could have gotten him (Davis) a little bit earlier if they were going to do a coaching change or whatever,” LSU senior guard Ed Ingram said after losing the 2021 opener at UCLA when the Tigers managed 49 rushing yards on 25 carries while quarterback Max Johnson was getting sacked twice.
“Because it’s two different coaching styles, two different techniques,” Ingram said. “He (Davis) has techniques that our old offensive line coach (Cregg) taught differently. And so it would have been good to kind of gel in with the new technique a little bit earlier, so we could get used to it and kind of integrate it into the season.”
Firing Cregg was wrong on two levels. He didn’t deserve it for his one minor NCAA violation that the NCAA didn’t seem particularly aware of, and he was too good of a coach. Cregg was one of the few good hires Orgeron made while LSU’s coach. Orgeron’s poor hiring practices led to the losing that led to his firing last season.
The fact that a high ranking LSU official or officials suggested Cregg be fired is also incredibly hypocritical. Those powers that be, like Woodward, are still at LSU and let new football coach Brian Kelly hire someone last December with a worse NCAA violations record than James Cregg.
WHY FIRE JAMES CREGG WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO HIRE FRANK WILSON?
Woodward and company let Kelly hire Frank Wilson as his associate head coach and running backs coach. Wilson, who was LSU’s recruiting coordinator from 2010-15 before becoming a head coach at Texas-San Antonio and McNeese State, was reprimanded by LSU in 2012 for breaking NCAA recruiting rules by meeting with a prospect off campus.
Then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva wrote a letter of reprimand about Wilson for “not being forthright and honest” in his testimony to the NCAA about the violation. So Wilson lied, doesn’t get fired, leaves and gets hired again. Cregg tells the truth and gets fired.
Oh, and Wilson is also part of former LSU football office assistant athletic director Sharon Lewis’ active lawsuit against LSU. She has accused Wilson of lewd behavior toward her in her office and says he sexually harassed other female employees while at LSU from 2012-15. Lewis’ lawsuit goes to trial on May 22, 2023.
Meanwhile, Davis, has never coached in the NFL and is a journeyman even in a journeymen profession. When he came to LSU in 2021, it was his eighth school in nine years. Kelly should have replaced Davis with Cregg, let Davis be the associate head coach and running backs coach and not hired Wilson.
LSU continues to lose lawsuits for treating coaches poorly. Former defensive coordinator John Chavis sued LSU for demanding he pay the school a $400,000 buyout when he left for Texas A&M after the 2014 season because he missed a deadline, which he didn’t. It was a cheap, vindictive move by then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva against the last defensive coordinator at LSU to lead the SEC in any major defensive category.
Chavis’ defense was No. 1 in the league and No. 3 in the nation in pass defense in 2014 and No. 1 in the SEC and No. 9 in the nation in total defense that same season. No LSU defense has been close to those numbers since.
Chavis, whose 2011 defense was one of the best in program and SEC history, wanted a raise after the ’14 season, and he clearly deserved one. But Alleva said no, so Chavis got another job. And Alleva got pissed like a child. LSU at the time even admitted in court to trying to secretly alter Chavis’ contract. Classy move. The lawsuit was settled with no figures released, but sources on both sides say Chavis won.
“We are clearly disappointed in the court’s ruling,” LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard told OutKick on Friday after losing to Cregg. “We had a coach admit to the NCAA under oath that he contacted and gave athletic gear to a recruit despite being advised by our compliance staff. We had a contractual right and obligation to terminate this coach’s contract. Unfortunately, the trial court did not see this the same way. We intend to appeal.”
Bring it, says Cregg attorney Robb Campbell, who worked with Whittington on the case.
“LSU does have the right to terminate any employee,” Campbell told OutKick Friday night. “But LSU does not have the right to ignore its own contracts. LSU did not have the right to terminate Coach Cregg for cause under the terms of this contract, and it was proven in court.”
What LSU should do now is admit it was wrong yet again and try to learn what coaches to fire or not hire and what coaches to keep. It just can’t seem to get that right.