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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Former Hampton football Coach files $7 million lawsuit against University

Former Hampton University football coach Jerry Holmes, who was fired in 2009 amid allegations he was seeking another job, is suing the school for nearly $7 million.

Holmes claims that statements made by HU athletic director Lonza Hardy and then-director of human resources Angela Dunn were false and have damaged his professional reputation. Holmes was dismissed following his only season as head coach on Jan. 26, 2009.

Then, Hardy told local newspapers in the Hampton area that Holmes was terminated because he was networking for a professional assistant coaching position at the Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile, Ala. Holmes denied he ever interviewed for another position.

The lawsuit claims Hardy knowingly or with reckless disregard made "materially false statements" with the intention of "humiliating" Holmes. The suit claims the statements were "willfully designed by defendant to discredit plaintiff in his profession."

The suit, filed by attorney Steve Forbes in Hampton Circuit Court, seeks $6.5 million in actual damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

Holmes, was the secondary coach for the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League last fall.

In its response dated Feb. 14, Hampton University requested the suit be dismissed. HU claims that each alleged false statement "either was not published, was privileged, constituted opinion, did not prejudice (Holmes) in his profession, or by its plain and natural meaning was not defamatory."

In particular, the response argues that all correspondence from Hardy and Dunn were sent directly to Holmes and copied only to "university employees who were in a position to have a need to know." Dunn was never quoted in the media.

Holmes signed a two-year contract to be HU's head coach on Dec. 31, 2007, replacing longtime coach Joe Taylor after serving as an assistant for the previous four seasons. The contract stipulated Holmes could be terminated for violating NCAA rules or making negative comments about the athletic department or university to the media. There was no mention of interviewing for other jobs.

The Pirates went 6-5 in Holmes' only season. On Jan. 26, two days after the Senior Bowl, Holmes received from Hardy a letter of dismissal. Hardy claimed that Holmes not only told his assistant coaches of his attempts to leave, he encouraged them to do so. Hardy called that "highly unprofessional and disrespectful" to HU.

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