The Lane Kiffin era at USC is off to a litigious start.
The Tennessee Titans on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Trojans' first-year coach and USC over the hiring of Titans assistant Kennedy Pola as offensive coordinator.
The lawsuit, filed in Tennessee's Davidson County Chancery court, accuses Kiffin and USC of "maliciously" intending to induce Pola to breach his contract with the Titans. Pola, a former USC fullback and assistant who spent the last five seasons working for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was hired in January as running backs coach by Titans Coach Jeff Fisher.
Kiffin hired Pola on Saturday. Fisher, a former USC defensive back, reacted that day by saying Kiffin exhibited a "lack of professionalism," by not first notifying him of his interest in pursuing Pola. Kiffin later issued a statement saying that he had spoken to the Titans coach and that Fisher "now has an accurate understanding of the timeline of events."
The lawsuit, first reported by the Tennessean newspaper on its website, accuses USC and Kiffin of violating Pola's contract, which required Pola to have written consent to "solicit discussions or entertain employment" with any entity other than the Titans. The NFL team is seeking compensatory, treble and punitive damages under Tennessee law.
"Kiffin and USC's actions ÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â‚ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â… were intentional, without legal justification, and were part of a course and pattern of conduct fostered by Kiffin and USC to use improper methods and means to the direct harm and damage of parties to contracts," the suits says.
The lawsuit argues that Pola's departure to USC deprives the team on an experienced running backs coach less than a week before the start of training camp, disrupts planning, causes potential loss of confidence by players and "extensive monetary losses," consisting of salary and benefits paid to Pola and "future damage."
The Titans declined to comment beyond the lawsuit. Kiffin could not be reached for comment. Pola declined to comment, and incoming USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, who officially takes his position on Aug. 3, said he could not comment on ongoing litigation involving USC.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment other than to say he had not heard of a similar situation.
The lawsuit cites Kiffin's stormy history in the state of Tennessee, where he coached before taking over at USC, noting that he "abruptly departed after one season, leaving the University of Tennessee without an experienced head football coach." The lawsuit also notes that Kiffin "persuaded" four Tennessee assistants to join USC's staff and includes a reference to USC and Kiffin's "unsuccessful" bid to entice Eric Bieniemy to leave the Minnesota Vikings to join USC's staff.
Dan Lazaroff, director of the Sports Law Institute at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, has read the complaint and said the Titans could have a case.
"The question is what, if anything, they will recover," Lazaroff said. "And even if they recover nothing, this doesn't do much for the reputation of Lane Kiffin and USC. It definitely could be an embarrassment."
Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.