Coach sues Morgan State in football job dispute Defensive coordinator told: no degree, no job

August 28, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

When they crossed paths at a coaches convention in January, Rondle Woods was looking for a career challenge, and Morgan State head coach Ricky Diggs was looking for a defensive coordinator.

After visiting the campus in March, Woods says, he accepted the job at Morgan. He quit his job as an assistant at the University of California at Davis (he began working there in 1990), piled his furniture on a moving van and got to the Northeast Baltimore campus on April 1.

But when the Bears open their season on Sept. 4, Woods won't be on the sidelines -- the school terminated his contract on May 30. Instead he'll be moving forward with his $450,000 lawsuit against Morgan State and Diggs that includes charges of breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation.

It's the second time in four months that Morgan and Diggs have been named in a lawsuit. In April, Betsy Stearns, former academic coordinator for the Morgan State athletic department, filed a $2 million lawsuit accusing Diggs of sexual harassment and the university of sexual discrimination.

Diggs declined comment on the Woods lawsuit, and neither Dr. Raymond Downs, the vice president for student affairs, nor Fred Douglass, the school spokesman, answered calls to their offices this week concerning the matter. New athletic director Kenneth McBryde would only say, "I came in after all this went on. It's unfortunate it's at this point."

The suit apparently has ended a friendship between Woods and Diggs that began in 1983, when both were assistant coaches at South Carolina.

Woods said Diggs first called him in 1991 about coaching at Morgan. "I said 'No way, I'm at a great institution,' " Woods said.

But Woods -- who was the secondary coach at UC Davis and an employee in good standing, according to a UC Davis spokesman -- said he was willing to listen this past January when Diggs mentioned the defensive coordinator's job. Woods said he accepted the position on the condition he not be required to teach. But shortly after arriving in Baltimore, he said, he was told that changes would require him to be in the classroom.

"I believed the whole time when we talked he [Diggs] knew I had to teach," Woods said. "He just wanted to wait until I got here to spring it on me. I was strapped, so I said OK."

But things weren't OK after Morgan asked for Woods' college transcripts. On his resume, Woods said he had an undergraduate degree from the University of Utah and had received his master's degree from Ohio State in 1985. But according to a source at Morgan, "It checked out he had no master's."

William Kirkpatrick, Woods' attorney, said the reason is simple.

"Apparently there was some glitch in his final course that to my understanding is going to be squared away," Kirkpatrick said. "Apparently a professor didn't send in the final grade for a final course he had."

But Steve Sterrett, director of news services at Ohio State, said: "Ohio State has no record of Rondle Woods receiving a degree from Ohio State. He was enrolled for one quarter in a graduate program for physical education."

"No one ever questioned my transcript before," Woods said. "This is what I took, so this is what I thought I had."

The questions at Morgan lingered, and at the end of April, Woods -- who said he was unable to move into an apartment because Morgan would not confirm his employment -- said he was called in for his first, and only, meeting with Downs.

"He said 'no transcript, no contract,' " Woods said. "I said, 'Why didn't you ask me for all of this before you brought me all the way out here?' "

Since he was unable to produce his master's degree, Woods was told that his salary would be reduced from $40,000 to $35,000, and he wouldn't have to teach, the suit says.

On May 6, Woods received a contract to sign, but only for the period covering April 1 to June 15, 1993 -- an agreement that he says he signed "under duress and severe pressure" because he had no income and needed "money just to eat." The next day, Woods was told that his contract would end on May 30, 1993.

On June 10 Woods got his only check from Morgan -- $5,652.58 net. It included $3,500 to cover moving costs, which Woods said should have been paid separately so the money wouldn't be taxed.

"This is absolutely the worst school I've ever dealt with," Woods said.

Woods -- who also has been an assistant at Northeastern, Ohio State and Utah -- will not be involved in football for the first time since 1968.

He's also a man without a home. Woods said he splits his time between motels in Baltimore and at friends' homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

"This has taken a physical and mental toll on me -- I've lost 20 pounds," Woods said outside the motel on Route 40 in Catonsville, where he was staying last week.

Woods said he has been criticized for filing the suit against Morgan.

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