MARIETTA, Ga. – A former assistant basketball coach for Georgia Tech claims the president of Kennesaw State University offered him the head coaching position there, then reneged on the offer after he quit his job and uprooted his family.
Kevin Cantwell sued the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, in Cobb County Court. The Board is the only named defendant, though Kennesaw State President Daniel Papp, whom Cantwell describes as a longtime friend, is at the heart of the complaint.
Cantwell says in his complaint that he began recruiting high school players as soon as Papp told him he had the job, and Papp knew it, and that because he did not get the job after all, all those recruitments were NCAA violations.
Cantwell says he quit a lucrative basketball training and coaching business in North Carolina, and his wife quit her job to, so he could take the job that he believed Papp had offered him.
Papp and Cantwell became friends while working at Georgia Tech, when Cantwell was assistant coach during Bobby Cremmons’ reign as head coach, according to the complaint.
The Papps and Cantwells lived next to each other, Cantwell says.
“In fact, at one neighborhood social gathering, Coach Cantwell was explaining to Dr. Papp his philosophy that becoming a successful coach and creating a successful team centers around an emphasis on academics and instilling pride in classroom performance for your players,” the complaint states. “After this discussion, Dr. Papp went as far as to tell Coach Cantwell’s daughter and future son-in-law ‘that is who I want to be my next basketball coach’ as Coach Cantwell walked away from the group. This comment was made more than two (2) years before Dr. Papp terminated Coach Ingle’s position as head men’s basketball coach at KSU and was one of several comments of this kind that Dr. Papp made to third parties prior to February 2011.”
After Cantwell and his wife moved to North Carolina, Cantwell says, the KSU team “struggled mightily” during the 2010-11 season. He says he wrote Papp a letter telling him he wanted the coaching job if Papp dismissed the KSU coach at the end of the season.
Cantwell claims that his letter “made clear that he was not advocating for Coach Ingle’s dismissal, but that, in the even Coach Ingle was dismissed, Coach Cantwell would appreciate the opportunity to be considered as a candidate for the open position.”
The complaint adds: “In his January 28, 2011 letter to Dr. Papp, Coach Cantwell set out a plan to build the KSU program into a perennial contender for the NCAA tournament. In this letter, Coach Cantwell revealed to Dr. Papp the identity of three prominent former Georgia Tech basketball players he planned to hire as assistant coaches. Coach Cantwell had confirmation from former NBA All Star Kenny Anderson and three-year Georgia Tech starter Jon Babul that they would serve as two of his assistants.”
Cantwell claims Papp responded one week late and scheduled a meeting in Marietta to discuss the coaching job. At that meeting, Cantwell claims, Papp “immediately declared that he had already decided that Tony Ingle would not be KSU’s men’s basketball coach after the 2010-11 season. … According to Dr. Papp, Coach Ingle was being replaced not because of wins and losses, but instead, because of the team’s academic failures.
“Following his comments about Coach Ingle, Dr. Papp went on to tell Coach Cantwell that he would be the next KSU head men’s basketball coach,” according to the complaint.
Cantwell claims Papp told him that he “Papp was concerned that the compensation of approximately $340,000 would not be sufficient for the high-profile state Coach Cantwell intended to hire. Coach Cantwell said the money was sufficient and Dr. Papp expressed his relief.”
Cantwell say he began recruiting high school students immediately, informed Papp of all his decisions, and that Papp approved them all. He says Papp asked him not to divulge the name of the school to recruits or their families until after Coach Ingle was dismissed.
Cantwell says he abided by that verbal agreement, and did not mention KSU’s name until after Coach Ingle resigned in March 2011, and the Cantwells planned their move back to Marietta. He says he and his wife both quit their jobs.
Then things changed.
“In late March 2011, Dr. Papp visited with Coach Cantwell in his home and told him he needed to fill out an application online. Thinking the application was a Human Resources formality, Coach Cantwell submitted the online application Dr. Papp requested,” according to the complaint.
To Cantwell’s surprise, he says, he got a phone call from the KSU Interim Athletic Director Scott Whitlock, who told him he was not the head coach, but merely one of six “finalists” for the position, and he would need to interview with the “basketball search committee.”
The date for his interview was April 1, 2011 – April Fool’s Day.
“Prior to receiving this email from Scott Whitlock, Coach Cantwell was not aware that a basketball search committee or other ‘candidates’ existed,” the complaint states.
After the telephone interview, Cantwell says, Papp met with him and told him the news.
“Dr. Papp approached him in Coach Cantwell’s backyard and told him he was not going to be the next KSU head men’s basketball coach, despite the fact that Dr. Papp, President of KSU, awarded Coach Cantwell this position on February 16, 2011,” the complaint states.
Cantwell says he and his wife lost considerable amounts of income by moving back to Marietta, depleted their retirement money and were forced to go on Social Security early, just to survive.
“Again, had Dr. Papp not expressly told Coach Cantwell that he would be the KSU head men’s basketball coach, but that he would just be a candidate for the job, Coach Cantwell and Mrs. Cantwell would have never resigned from their employment in North Carolina and uprooted their lives to return to Marietta, Georgia, and they would have avoided the resulting catastrophic financial consequences,” the complaint states.
In addition, Cantwell says, he believes that all of the recruiting efforts he performed on behalf of KSU, when he thought he was the hired head coach, are NCAA violations.
“Coach Cantwell has now come to learn, upon information and belief, that, by allowing Coach Cantwell to make recruiting phone calls on behalf of KSU, to go on recruiting trips, to visit with recruits and their parents, and by receiving ongoing updates from Coach Cantwell on recruiting efforts, Dr. Papp, as the president of an NCAA member institution, may have sanctioned behavior that constitutes multiple violations of NCAA recruiting roles,” according to the complaint.
The Cantwells seek costs and damages for negligent misrepresentation and mental and emotional pain and suffering.
They are represented by William Sheppard, with James-Bates-Brannan-Groover.