Cornell Ends Lawsuit Against Former Coach After He Pays $100K for ‘Contract Breach’

By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs & Zachary Silver
Sun City Editor and Sun Senior Editor

Cornell University has dropped its lawsuit against former head football coach Richard Kent Austin after he paid more than $100,000 for terminating his contract early, court documents show.

Austin, a quarterback-turned-coach, left Ithaca in December of 2012 — with two years remaining on a five-year, $1.4-million contract — to manage the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League. Austin’s contract with the University, filed as an exhibit in New York State Supreme Court in Tompkins County, shows a provision that required him to pay a penalty if he left East Hill early.

Cornell sued Austin on Aug. 29, saying the former coach, who is now a vice president of the Ontario team, never paid the penalty and owed the University $100,000 plus 9 percent interest and court fees.

At a press conference the day after The Sun broke news of the lawsuit, Austin said that the issue had been “resolved” and was “not an issue,” although he declined to tell reporters how it had been resolved.

“That was something that has been in process for a long time, but it’s completely resolved,” Austin said. “That story — you’ve got to be careful what you read.”

Since the suit was filed, court documents indicate, Austin paid more than $100,000 to settle the claim. The University dropped its suit on Sept. 12, saying in court that, “upon full payment of the claim,” Cornell “voluntarily discontinues” its lawsuit.

Court filings indicate that Athletic Director Andy Noel, in 2012, told Austin he could wait to pay the penalty until he sold a house in Cayuga Heights that the coach had purchased for $630,000, deeds show. But, three years later, in December 2015, a lawyer for Cornell said the “obligation must be resolved now.”

Nelson E. Roth, in the Dec. 17, 2015, letter, said that if Austin could not sell the Cayuga Heights house, he would have to find another way to fulfill the terms of his contract with Cornell and pay the fee. Austin emailed Noel later that day and asked if there was anything his former boss could do to help.

“It has NEVER been my intention to avoid this obligation and you know that there is no way for me to pay this obligation without selling the house at a value to make this work,” Austin said in email to Noel, according to court documents. “Since it has now gone to the Special Counsel, is this out of your hands completely?”

Noel has “sole discretion” to waive the $100,000 penalty, according to the contract, and apparently chose not to do so. An Athletics Department spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

Cornell filed the suit last month, more than a year after Austin sold his home in April 2016 for the same price he paid, $630,000. The buyer, listed on the deed as HTCFC, Inc., appears to be a parent company for the owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — Austin’s current team.

HTCFC, Inc., aside from having the same initials as the football club, is a North Carolina business corporation formed in 2003 whose president is Robert Young, owner of the Ontario team, according to documents filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State. Less than eight months after purchasing Austin’s house, HTCFC sold it at a $170,000 loss to a Florida man, deeds show.

Lindsey Hadlock, a Cornell spokesperson, declined to comment on the case, responding to an inquiry from The Sun sent to Valerie Cross Dorn, Cornell’s lead attorney in the suit, and John McKain, associate vice president for communications. Austin did not respond to emails requesting comment.

Hadlock said in August that Cornell was looking forward “to a judicial resolution of this contract breach.”

The suit against Austin came during a rough news week for the former Ole Miss gunslinger. Days before Cornell filed suit, Austin had a hand in his Canadian team’s hiring, and then removal, of former Baylor head coach Art Briles.

While Briles was at Baylor, the university was found to have mishandled sexual assault allegations against some football players, leading to his eventual exit. After a “lengthy discussion” with the league, the Tiger-Cats decided on Aug. 28 not to bring Briles onboard.

Under Austin’s tenure, which began in January 2010, Cornell’s football team won 11 games and lost 19. Upon leaving Cornell for the Ontario position in 2012, Austin said “Cornell is a special place with very special people, and I will miss them all.”

At Ole Miss, Austin set the school record for career passing yards, which was later broken by several players, including Eli Manning, now the quarterback for the New York Giants. Austin’s brief career in the NFL included one attempted pass for the then-St. Louis Cardinals in 1986, the year the team selected him 312th overall in the NFL Draft.

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