More than four months after former head football coach Robby Wells resigned and then filed a lawsuit accusing Savannah State of racism, SSU officials have decided to respond.
Outgoing administration vice-president and interim athletic director Claud Flythe called Wells a “pathological liar,” according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal.
“It’s ludicrous that someone would make those accusations,” Flythe told the AJC.
Many people admit that the entire affair with Wells was badly managed, with one administrator calling it one of “the most poorly handled situations.”
“This should have been addressed in January,” the official added.
Wells was given a “resign-or-be-fired” ultimatum back in January by Flythe and other university officials concerned with what they called judgment and ethics lapses by Wells two years after he was hired.
Wells, the first white football coach in SSU’s history, contends in his lawsuit that he was fired because his fiance is black. He said university officials also told him in a letter that the school’s alumni would not support him because he was white nor would the predominantly African-American population of Savannah.
Flythe countered that Wells was forced out because of a lack of progress with the football team. Savannah State won five games in 2008 and only two games in 2009. The five victories in 2008 were equal to the total victories in the previous five seasons.
Wells said that some major concerns were brought to his attention in January that made him rethink his position on Wells.
He said the four officials from the athletic department approached him about “serious issues of the football program…things that could jeopardize the integrity of the university.”
Savannah State, which just got off NCAA probation in 2009, is set to join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as its 12th member and doesn’t need any more problems to jeopardize its status.
Flythe said the concerns included “a misuse of travel money during the 2008 football season,” “difficulty following the chain of command” and “receiving extra benefit (sic) that has not been reported through university channels.”
Flythe did not elaborate on what those extra benefits might have been.
In a previous letter to Wells, Flythe called the former coach a self-promoter who “cares more about his image than his team.” Wells said in the letter than Wells ate before the team did, took cell phone calls during team meetings and traveled back from games with his family and not with his players. Flythe stated that Wells ordered equipment and hired staff without following proper procedures and that athletes “admittedly lack respect” for him.
Despite these problems, Savannah State extended Wells contract for another year in December 2009.
Wells’ accusations are just the tip of the iceberg for SSU. The school confirmed that 13 football players were ineligible for spring practice and that 20 other players had either quite the team and had been dismissed for various violations and infractions.
The university confirmed other news reports that 13 of the players were ineligible to participate in spring practice and that 20 players had either quit or were dismissed from the team.
Wells had promised to recruit 25 new players for the teams from the ranks of area high schools, as well as from Division I cast-offs. Controversy erupted soon after when SSU officials declined to offer scholarships to five of Wells’ recruits, all of whom were white.
Flythe chaired the committee that hired Wells as football coach in 2008. Flythe said Wells was hired on the promise of bringing more money into the school.
At the time of the hiring, Wells had fairly impressive credentials. He had been a graduate assistant under the legendary Lou Holtz at South Carolina, followed by a stint as defensive coordinator for MEAC powerhouse South Carolina State. He also spent a year at Benedict College before jumping to SSU.
For his part, Wells said that all of his accusations are true and that he has the evidence to back them up. His lawyer, Debra Schwartz, said she had not seen any letters that Flythe gave to the AJC and could not comment on them.
But, she did have one question regarding Flythe and Savannah State.
“If his job performance was so poor, why give him a contract extension?” she asked.