Ex-USC assistant Todd McNair's defamation trial vs. NCAA begins in L.A.

ByKyle Bonagura ESPN logo
Thursday, April 26, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- In a small, cramped, downtown courtroom, opposing sides in former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair's defamation trial against the NCAA delivered lengthy opening statements on Monday, providing detailed looks into how they will argue the case over the next few weeks.

They provided background about the case, shared information about the parties involved and familiarized the 12-member jury -- whose understanding of the NCAA and college football was treated as minimal or nonexistent -- with the background needed to understand what will be presented.

In 2010, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued a report that concluded that McNair "knew or should have known" that former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush was engaged in violations with a would-be agent while playing for USC and McNair "provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff." As a result, it issued McNair a one-year show-cause penalty and one-year recruiting ban that McNair's lead attorney, Bruce Broillet, said effectively ended his career as a high-level coach.

Broillet called the NCAA's process "a botched investigation that produced a recklessly constructed record upon which a committee of the NCAA, having been inappropriately influenced in violation of its own rules, rendered a report published everywhere that defamed and misrepresented the facts based on that recklessly constructed record."

Much of what was presented has been reported at length over the past several years, but what had been less clear before Monday is what McNair has done to pursue employment in coaching in the years since.

Broillet said McNair approached friends at Washington, Western Kentucky and Temple for jobs at the college level, but his involvement in the Bush scandal prevented anything from materializing. The same goes for jobs in the NFL with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. The timeline for these inquiries was not provided.

The NCAA's lead attorney, Kosta Stojilkovic, who once clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, made a case that McNair's attempts to find a job in coaching were minimal and that his lack of effort --not the NCAA's punishment -- was at fault for his continued absence from college coaching several years later. In fact, Stojilkovic said the NCAA "gave McNair one of the lightest penalties it could."

Stojilkovic noted as examples Bruce Pearl, who received a three-year show-cause order, and Kelvin Sampson, who received a five-year show-cause. Both are currently serving as head men's basketball coaches at major universities (Pearl at Auburn,Sampson at Houston).

Both sides allotted several minutes to comb through several emails that document perceived ill will for McNair and USC by three non-voting members involved with the COI. Broillet laid out how their influence on the committee was against the NCAA's bylaws -- something he indicated will be addressed in the video deposition of NCAA president Mark Emmert -- while Stojilkovic downplayed the role they ultimately played.

The NCAA, Stojilkovic said, admits that there were problems with the way some of its staffers corresponded in emails -- namely Shep Cooper, whom Stojilkovic described as a liaison for the COI -- but noted that the missteps taken don't amount to defamation because they weren't included in the published report.

Broillet informed the jury that McNair's life spiraled downward after the NCAA report became public. He said McNair, who was present Monday and for three days of jury selection last week, started drinking heavily and became depressed. He trained players for the NFL combine and worked odd jobs, including as an Uber driver. Broillet also said McNair, who made $250,000 a year at USC, will be coaching high school football in the upcoming season and will be paid a small stipend.

The trial resumes Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, where former NCAA investigator Angie Cretors is expected to testify in person, along with the playing of at least one video deposition.