Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis warned Les Miles that a provision added to assistant coaches’ contracts — dubbed the “Les Miles clause” — was the university’s first step toward getting rid of the head coach.
“This kind of reminds me of Phillip Fulmer,” Chavis told Miles in November 2014.
That’s according to a deposition Miles gave in the ongoing legal fight between Chavis, now Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator, and LSU, his former employer.
Portions of depositions from Miles, athletic director Joe Alleva and other LSU administrators were available in new filings made last week in 19th Judicial Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. They’re the latest entries in a 17-month-old wrangling over the coach’s $400,000 buyout, which the school claims he owes.
Before leaving LSU in December 2014, Chavis told people that LSU’s treatment of Miles — and the “Les Miles clause” — was a sign the school planned to fire the coach in the same unceremonious fashion Tennessee fired Fulmer in 2008. The "Les Miles clause" ties assistants to Miles. If he is fired or resigns, LSU staff members’ contracts won’t be fully honored. A similar clause appeared in the contracts of Tennessee assistants — including Chavis, then UT’s defensive coordinator.
“I would say coach Chavis felt that there was more than one thing being done at the university that the treatment of coach Miles was disrespectful,” said Dean Dingman, LSU’s assistant director of football operations, in his deposition. “He actually used the term that it reminded him of what happened to coach Fulmer at Tennessee.”
Alleva admitted in December that he “looked at options” and made “inquiries” regarding a potential new football coach last fall — part of a drama-filled November in which numerous national entities reported Miles’ firing. The Advocate reported in December that LSU’s plan to fire the coach was nixed, in part, because of budgetary concerns from the school’s president, F. King Alexander.
Miles, 112-32 as the Tigers' coach, had a buyout of $15 million last fall. That figure dropped to $12.9 million Jan. 1 and moves to $8.6 million Jan. 1, 2018.
Les Miles has more to worry about than readying his team for the 2016 football season.
Miles is readying his team for his 12th season at the school. The Tigers begin preseason camp Thursday and likely will enter the year ranked in the top 10. His deposition took place July 13 in a law office in downtown Baton Rouge, the day before he appeared at Southeastern Conference media days. According to court documents, Chavis was in the room during Miles’ deposition.
Chavis lawyer Jill Craft's latest motion requests LSU’s suit against Chavis be dismissed, using depositions from Miles; Alleva; Mark Ewing, LSU’s senior associate athletic director over business; and Wendy Nall, LSU’s assistant athletic director for human resources.
Much of the depositions focuses on alterations LSU officials made to a three-year contract Chavis signed after the 2011 season, a contract stipulating he owes a $400,000 buyout if he left LSU before Feb. 1, 2015. Craft argues the alterations void the contract, rendering the buyout moot. A&M is responsible for the coach’s buyout, according to his contract with the Aggies.
LSU admitted in December that “nominal” alterations were made to the coach’s contract. In depositions, Alleva and Ewing said Chavis did not sign the altered contract, the one approved by the school's board of supervisors. Ewing and Nall said Chavis never received a copy of the changed contract.
Changes made to the contract include the replacement of a name and rewording of the buyout section of the deal. Officials added the name of interim president William L. Jenkins, replacing the name of former president John Lombardi, who had been fired after Chavis signed his version in April 2012 and before the altered version was approved by the board in June 2012.
Ewing admits to changing the wording of the buyout clause at the behest, he said, of someone from LSU’s Systems office. Craft, in her motion, claims the alterations were “clearly done behind Chavis’ back.”
Ewing changed the language regarding the buyout dates from “between 24 months to 36 months” to “between the first day of the 36th month remaining to the last day of the 24th month remaining.” He also changed language in the buyout dates from “between 11 months and 23 months” to “between the first day of the 23rd month remaining to the last day of the 12th month.”
Miles, Ewing and Alleva, as they were peppered by Craft, all said the meaning of the buyout did not change with the rewording of that section.
At one point, Miles asks Craft, “What’s the difference? You tell me.”
Replies Craft: “I don’t get to answer the questions. You do.”
Miles, in his deposition, admits that he badly wanted to keep Chavis but the defensive coordinator ended his six-year stint in Baton Rouge because of Alleva. Chavis refused to sign a new contract, proposed by Alleva, that included the "Les Miles clause."
Alleva agreed to remove the "Les Miles clause" from Chavis’ proposed new deal only after LSU’s loss in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014 — far too late, according to Miles’ deposition, for Chavis to cancel plans to join Texas A&M. In a meeting with Chavis at the team’s hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, Miles offered Chavis a three-year deal worth $1.8 million per year after Miles’ agent, George Bass, convinced Alleva to remove the clause.
“It was too late,” Miles said in his deposition. “John made that very clear.”
Miles never thought Chavis would leave LSU until that night, he said.
“I didn’t believe John was leaving,” he said. “I just could not understand how that happened.”
The "Les Miles clause" was removed this spring from several new and restructured contracts of LSU assistants.
In the suit, lawyers for both sides have spent the past few weeks conducting depositions in a case that started last February. Chavis was scheduled to be deposed Monday. It's unclear when State District Judge Timothy Kelley will rule on the latest motion.
Dingman’s deposition also took place July 13, the same day of Miles' deposition. Dingman, who played under Miles at Michigan, is one of the coach’s most trusted people. He has led assistant coaching hires recently, and he oversees educating underclassmen on NFL decisions. Dingman's deposition — only portions of which were available — tells the behind-the-scenes tale of the restructuring of Chavis' contract and the addition of the "Les Miles clause."
Dingman, Miles and Alleva met during LSU’s bye week of Nov. 18, 2014 — before the game against Texas A&M and after a 17-0 loss at Arkansas — to discuss staff contracts. That’s the meeting in which Chavis’ new contract was discussed and agreed upon — with the "Les Miles clause."
In a meeting with Chavis around the same time, Dingman said Chavis expressed that the "Les Miles clause" was “a reflection on how the university administration felt about coach Miles.”
Alleva’s deposition was testy at times. It was held July 20, a week after Craft conducted Ewing’s deposition. Alleva admits to Craft that he spoke to Ewing about Ewing’s deposition. Asked specifically what they spoke about, Alleva said “you,” referring to Craft.
“OK,” Craft said.
“Basically you,” Alleva said again.
“I’m sure it wasn’t exactly flattering,” Craft replied.
Alleva, in his deposition, said he wasn’t aware of the alterations to Chavis’ contract until they emerged in the lawsuit last year, but he twice said the two contracts are “virtually the same.”
Later during the deposition, Craft asks Alleva, "So then, it would be fair, would it not, to say that the accusation that my client breached (the altered contract), which he did not sign, is false?"
Said Alleva: “Your client had an agreement with LSU that, if he left before the end of January, he owed $400,000.”