On Thursday, the University of Texas fired men’s basketball coach Chris Beard for cause a month after he was arrested for assault on a family/household member, which is a felony under Texas law. Beard’s attorneys are contesting the firing, which could lead to a breach of contract lawsuit.
Beard, 49, is accused of strangling his fiancée, Randi Trew, at their home on Dec. 12. Texas suspended Beard following the arrest. However, Trew recanted her accusation on Dec. 23, saying Beard did not strangle her and that he acted in self-defense. Trew also maintained she didn’t intend for Beard to be arrested.
The “for cause” designation of Beard’s firing means that, barring a successful breach of contract lawsuit or settlement with the university, Beard will be denied proceeds from the remainder of his seven-year, $35 million contract that runs through 2028. Had Beard been fired without cause, he would have been owed 70% of remaining base salary and professional services payments along with 100% of earned, accrued or vested compensation.
Although Beard was arrested by police, his attorney, Perry Minton, emphasizes that Beard has not been indicted or charged. This is an important distinction since it means a prosecution has not yet begun and might not ever happen. In a letter sent to the university on Thursday, Minton predicted the Travis County (Texas) district attorney’s office will “soon decline any and all charges in the matter.” Trew’s conflicting accounts would likely complicate a prosecution that needs to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The distinction between an arrest and charge is also important for purposes of Beard’s employment contract. Sportico has learned that Texas fired Beard under a clause that defines “for cause” as:
Any conduct (a) that the University administration reasonably determines is clearly unbecoming to a Head Coach and reflects poorly on the University, the Program, or the University of Texas System; or (b) resulting in a criminal charge being brought against Head Coach involving a felony, or any crime involving theft, dishonesty, or moral turpitude.
Section a would apply if the school “reasonably determined” that Beard engaged in conduct unbecoming. Section b does not apply at this time because Beard has not been charged.
According to Minton, the university reached a decision about firing Beard for cause without having interviewed either Beard or Trew, or requesting materials from them. There also hasn’t been a university hearing in which Beard could answer questions or offer a defense. Although Beard’s contract doesn’t explicitly state he is entitled to such safeguards, public universities—which must adhere to constitutional due process requirements—often supply them.
The university sees the situation differently. In a statement sent to media on Thursday, James Davis, the school’s vice president for legal affairs, highlighted that Texas declined to immediately terminate Beard following his arrest. The school instead, he wrote, “exercised thoughtful restraint to allow time for additional material facts to emerge.” Davis also asserted that Beard exhibits a “lack of self-awareness” regarding the “significance of the behavior he knows he engaged in.”
If Beard sued the university, a case would be brought in Travis County, though Texas could then transfer it to federal court. The contract does not contain any requirement for Beard to first mediate or arbitrate. It does express that Beard waives any potential claims for alleged humiliation or defamation, or for loss of earning capacity.
As a state school, Texas could argue the defense of sovereign immunity. It generally holds that public universities are shielded from lawsuits unless they consent. Sovereign immunity is not without exceptions or limitations, though Texas Tech successfully used it to defeat a lawsuit brought by the late Mike Lech after his firing.
As of now, Beard is due in court for a hearing on Jan. 18.