SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer HELENA
Former Montana State football coach Mike Kramer said Monday he wants compensation from the university for his firing last month, which occurred days after the arrest of another former Bobcat on drug charges. Kramer spoke publicly about his dismissal for the first time in a news conference with attorney Cliff Edwards at Edwards' Billings office, as university officials prepared to begin interviewing four finalists for his job. He was ousted by school officials in mid-May, after seven seasons during which he compiled a 40-43 record. Edwards said Kramer's contract was breached and his career tainted, leaving MSU with “substantial monetary and legal exposure that need to be addressed.” Speaking with MSU officials about compensation is the appropriate first step, and helping Kramer “reclaim his good name” is one of the goals, said Edwards, adding that a lawsuit had not been filed. MSU lawyer Leslie Taylor said the university received a letter Monday about compensation negotiations, and will discuss the issue with representatives of the state's self-insurance fund. Kramer worked under an annual contract with a salary of about $135,000. His firing came days after the arrest of former MSU wide receiver Rick Gatewood on drug allegations. Gatewood is accused of using money from his athletic scholarship to traffic in cocaine transported from California to the Bozeman area. Gatewood is the sixth former MSU athlete arrested in connection with crimes involving drugs or murder in the past year. Edwards suggested Kramer became a scapegoat. “A very good man and a very good Montanan has been, I think, absolutely trashed by people who were covering their own backsides,” Edwards said. Taylor said the decision “to make a change at the top of our football program was precipitated by a series of events concerned with the illegal activities of people associated with the program, but also with the academic culture within our football program and compliance issues. These problems surfaced over a long period of time and this (firing) decision was not centered on one incident.” Kramer expressed pride in the academic performance of football players. The team recently posted an overall grade-point average of 2.72, and a number of players posted averages of 3.0 or better, with one earning a perfect 4.0, he said. The football program was not perfect, Kramer said, but he did not believe there were defects that made him vulnerable to firing. He acknowledged a drug problem in Bozeman. The football team underwent drug testing eight times this spring and a player who twice tested positive was dismissed, he said. “How are the arrests of ex-athletes related to the athletic department?” Kramer said. Edwards said he does not expect his client to regain the MSU job, and Kramer himself said his “opportunities to be a Division I head coach again are going to be relatively small.” The 52-year-old former coach said that even if he must move from Bozeman, it is likely his wife will remain in town while their youngest daughter, who is 17, completes her senior year at Bozeman High School.