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LSU offensive line coach James Cregg coaches on the field during pregame warm-ups before kickoff against South Carolina, Saturday, October 24, 2020, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

A judge has ruled that LSU improperly fired an assistant football coach accused in 2021 of violating NCAA rules, court records show, and must hand over the remaining part of his contract — nearly half a million dollars.

State Judge Wilson Fields ordered the university to pay former offensive line coach James Cregg more than $492,945 Thursday morning, according to court minutes. LSU sought to terminate that contract when it fired Cregg in 2021; officials accused him of holding in-person meetings with recruits during a period when the NCAA's COVID-19 protocols banned such contact.

An LSU spokesman said the university plans to appeal the ruling.

"We had a contractual right and obligation to terminate this coach’s contract," spokesman Ernie Ballard said. "Unfortunately, the trial court did not see this the same way."

Cregg sued the school last year for breach of contract, arguing that the university — and the NCAA — never determined he actually broke any NCAA rules before firing him. In turn, LSU's lawyers claimed the coach had admitted to gifting LSU gear to a team prospect during the NCAA's COVID recruiting "dead period."

Cregg acknowledged in his lawsuit that then-head football coach Ed Orgeron gave him a letter in June of 2021 outlining LSU's intent to fire Cregg "for cause" because he admitted to an NCAA enforcement official in May to "visiting with and providing gear to a team prospect" during the dead period.

But Cregg's attorneys have said in court filings that the NCAA never issued a formal ruling or decision that he committed any violation of NCAA bylaws. Cregg also argued that LSU sought intentionally to hire his replacement, former University of Arkansas assistant coach Brad Davis, before Cregg was fired.

"Contracts have to have meaning," said Chris Whittington, Cregg's attorney. "And Coach Cregg is thankful that the terms of his contract with LSU have been enforced.”

Cregg, 47, was entering the final year of what would be his last contract with LSU, which was set to pay him about $700,000 through the contract's expiration on March 31, 2022. His departure came just over a year after LSU's offensive line was given the Joe Moore Award in the 2019 season for nation's top blocking unit, an award that Cregg mentions in his lawsuit.

Cregg is now an assistant offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

The amount LSU must pay after Thursday's ruling grants Cregg the balance of his contract with the university in the period from June, 2021 to March 2022, according to Whittington — minus payments from several weeks in the spring of 2022 when he had begun working for the 49ers.

Email James Finn at jfinn@theadvocate.com.

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