Bret Bielema, the former head football coach of Arkansas Razorbacks, sued the Razorback Foundation for at least $7 million Friday for not paying him the remaining portion of a buyout agreement.
At the end of the 2017 season, Bielema was “terminated for convenience” by the University of Arkansas after posting 29-34 record since 2012.
The foundation’s lawyer, however, says Bielema already received more than $4.5 million to which he was not contractually entitled.
More: Download the lawsuit here.
Bielema said in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville that the buyout agreement called for him to be paid $11.93 million, roughly $3.5 million less than he was owed under the contract.
He agreed to the reduction in pay because he “had no more appetite for litigation against the Razorbacks in late 2017 than he does now,” the 64-page lawsuit said. “For that reason, Coach Bielema took the high road and agreed to the Foundation’s first settlement proposal, with no negotiation.”
But the foundation, the non-profit fundraising arm for Arkansas athletics, stopped paying him his monthly payments of about $321,000 in early 2019, he says in the complaint, and now he’s owed $7 million.
The foundation had stopped making the payments in 2019 on the theory that Bielema breached his duty to seek a new job, Arkansas Business first reported in May 2019.
Marshall Ney of the Friday Eldredge & Clark law firm, who represents the foundation, said in a statement Friday afternoon that he just received a copy of the complaint. “What I can share at this point before digesting the entire document is that the Foundation previously demanded that Bret Bielema return the [$4.555 million] that had been paid to him prior to the Foundation’s discovery of his multiple material breaches of the agreement. It appears that Bielema filed suit in order to avoid being sued.”
The terms of the buyout agreement included language that said, “Bielema shall have an affirmative duty of mitigation to diligently seek and to obtain other employment,” the lawsuit said.
Bielema said he not only met “but, in fact, exceeded — his obligations” under the buyout agreement.
In 2018, Bielema started working for NFL’s New England Patriots to help the team’s coaching staff in assessing NFL draft prospects. He was paid $25,000 for about seven weeks of work, the lawsuit said.
He then was promoted to special assistant to the head coach and had an annual salary of $100,000. In 2019, Bielema was promoted again to special assistant to the head coach and paid $250,000.
His annual salary was both fair and reasonable when compared to the average annual salaries then being paid to NFL on-field assistant coaches, the lawsuit said.
In 2020, Bielema left the Patriots and joined the New York Giants as its outside linebackers/senior assistant with a $400,000 salary.
In late 2019, the foundation sent a letter to Bielema demanding that he repay more than $4.5 million of the buyout money he received, or it was going to sue him, according to his lawsuit.
“After doing nothing to follow through on its empty threat, it would appear the Foundation mistakenly thought it could coerce Coach Bielema into an unjustifiable compromise to avoid being sued or having to sue the Foundation,” the lawsuit said. “In any event, having exhausted every other avenue to resolve this dispute, Coach Bielema deeply regrets that the Foundation left him no choice but to commence this litigation.”
Bielema is represented by attorneys Thomas Mars of Rogers; Craig Wood and Benjamin P. Abel of the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlottesville, Virginia; John C. Everett of Farmington; John E. Tull III of the Quattlebaum Grooms & Tull law firm in Little Rock; and Ryan K. Culpepper of Hot Springs.