HELENA (AP) – Former Montana State football coach Mike Kramer filed a lawsuit Thursday against the university, claiming he was wrongfully terminated earlier this year.
The lawsuit alleges MSU President Geoff Gamble and Athletics Director Peter Fields “conspired to use coach Kramer as a scapegoat by publicly holding him responsible” for the conduct of former football players who got into legal trouble.
Kramer’s attorney, Cliff Edwards, said Gamble and Fields damaged the coach’s career and reputation by connecting him to the arrests. The lawsuit alleges the men were trying to “deflect criticism from them and protect their jobs.”
The lawsuit also names the state Board of Regents, claiming the board allowed Kramer to be treated differently than Montana football coach Bobby Hauck, who had the support of the UM administration following the arrests this year of six then-current football players and one on the injured list.
“Coach Kramer was fired, humiliated and his professional career completely decimated by the Montana University System while the other head football coach was endorsed and supported,” the lawsuit said.
With the lawsuit, Kramer is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.
Gamble’s office referred calls to MSU legal counsel Leslie Taylor, who said the school intends to defend its decision.
“We’ll file a response with the court,” she said.
Fields was out of the office and could not immediately be reached for comment, while Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns was in meetings and not available for comment.
Kramer was fired May 18, a day after former wide receiver Richard Gatewood was arrested on federal drug charges. Gatewood’s arrest was the fifth among current and former MSU football players in less than a year’s time, including a former redshirt player who is charged with kidnapping and murder. One of the arrests involved a then-current player.
At the time, Fields said in a statement: “Looking at the football program as a whole and in light of the recent criminal activities of former student-athletes connected to it, I believe there is something broken with our football program and we need to take decisive steps to fix it.”
The lawsuit claims administrators later stated other reasons, “including false assertions that coach Kramer was solely responsible for NCAA academic and compliance violations.” It also alleges Kramer was denied the right to appeal the decision.
Kramer, who has expressed interest in the head coaching job at Eastern Washington, coached at Montana State for seven seasons, starting in 1999, posting a 40-43 record and sharing the Big Sky Conference title during three of those years. In 2006, the Bobcats posted their first postseason win in 22 years.
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