Published 9:26 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2008
By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Ronnie Cottrell said he will continue to fight a legal battle against what he called defamation by the NCAA and a recruiting analyst, despite a decision Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear his appeal.
"I don't think there's any question we will continue to fight," the Brewton native said. "I don't want this to happen to any other coach."
Without having read the court's decision or talking to his attorneys, Cottrell said he had little other comment.
But his brother Danny, a Brewton pharmacist, said he is proud of his brother's efforts to fight the case.
"You have to admire the fact that he fought it and to a certain extent he was vindicated," Danny Cottrell said Tuesday, referring to a Tuscaloosa jury's $30 million judgment in Ronnie Cottrell's favor. That verdict was later set aside.
Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams, both former Alabama assistant coaches, sued the NCAA and analyst Tom Culpepper in 2005 for defamation. Both coaches lost their jobs after the NCAA's investigation into violations in the Alabama football program and said they could not find comparable employment because of the defamation. The NCAA placed Alabama on probation for a number of rules violations after the investigation.
Initially, a Tuscaloosa jury awarded Cottrell $30 million in the lawsuit in 2005. But the judge in the case, Steve Wilson, threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial. Wilson retired from the bench earlier this month.
Cottrell appealed to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the judge's ruling and others that removed Williams as a plaintiff and the NCAA as a defendant.
Danny Cottrell called the U.S. Supreme Court's decision – handed down without comment – a "crying shame."
"Basically with this ruling an assistant coach is at the mercy of the NCAA," he said. "That ruling said assistant coaches are all public figures, even though we know they're not."
Cottrell's lawsuit alleged that Culpepper spread lies about him, and a number of witnesses testified at the Tuscaloosa trial that Culpepper had made those statements about the coach.
After the NCAA and Williams were removed from the case, Judge Wilson ruled that Cottrell could be considered a private figure, making damages easier for him to collect from Culpepper if the jury saw the case in his favor.
Wilson had earlier said Cottrell was a limited public figure.
They did – and awarded Cottrell $6 million in compensatory damages and $24 million in punitive damages, thought at the time to be one of the largest jury verdicts awarded to a plaintiff in Alabama. But Wilson set aside that verdict and ordered a new trial.
Ronnie Cottrell was a respected recruiter for Florida State University before being hired by Alabama in 1998. After losing his job with the Tide, he briefly served as coach for Carroll High School in Ozark and is now in private business.