Seton Hall fired Bobby Gonzalez six days after an expletive-laced tirade directed at a university dean during a phone conversation March 11, according to court documents obtained by SNY.tv.
After Pat Hobbs, dean of the Seton Hall School of Law and overseer of the men's basketball program, telephoned Gonzalez to inquire about the coach's profanity-laced tirade directed at a Bergen Record reporter and alleged threat toward that reporter, Gonzalez screamed into the phone.
"Nobody's gonna tell me how to run my motherf---ing program. Not you, not Monsignor, not Joe Quinlan. This is my f---ing program. My f---ing program," Gonzalez screamed, according to the counterclaim filed Tuesday by Seton Hall in response to Gonzalez's April lawsuit.
Dean Hobbs hung up on Gonzalez, the document states, and the coach was fired March 17.
"Predictably, Coach Gonzalez's termination for cause followed shortly thereafter - he was fired effective immediately on March 17, 2010, and his termination was memorialized in the Termination Letter two days later, on March 19, 2010 - as does this action for compensatory and punitive damages to redress the harm wrought by his flagrant and appalling disregard for his contractual obligations to Seton Hall," the counterclaim reads.
Gonzalez, who coached the Pirates for four seasons, launched a lawsuit in April, arguing he had "satisfactorily performed his duties" and asserting he was due two years of salary.
Kevin Marino, Seton Hall's attorney, declined comment. Hobbs was not immediately available for comment.
"It's out of time so we're going to demand that they withdraw it until they get an order from the court permitting them to file an untimely pleading," Gonzalez's attorney, Gerald Krovatin, said of the counterclaim in a phone interview.
Krovatin declined to comment on Gonzalez's phone call with Hobbs, but added, "Rather than do the right thing and resolve this amicably, Seton Hall wants to continue to drag Bobby Gonzalez through the mud. This counterclaim is petty, mean-spirited and ultimately counterproductive."
In a recent video interview with The Newark Star-Ledger, Gonzalez said of the lawsuit: "The school has given me and my family no choice. They owe us that money."
In response to the lawsuit, Seton Hall argues that Gonzalez committed "malicious and repeated breaches of his Employment Agreement during the 2009-2010 basketball season" and says he owes the school $50,000 plus interest. The money owed is what remains on a $125,000 loan given to Gonzalez in 2006.
Hobbs' phone call to Gonzalez followed an incident in which a Bergen Record reporter called Gonzalez "to alert him to an unflattering story the reporter intended to publish in which a Seton Hall player [Robert Mitchell] would be quoted as criticizing Coach Gonzalez and his coaching style," the counterclaim says.
"During that call, after subjecting the reporter to a prolonged, profanity-spiced harangue, Coach Gonzalez warned him, 'If I were you I wouldn't run that story,'" the document says.
Such incidents were commonplace during Gonzalez's tenure at the Big East school, with virtually every reporter who regularly covered the team (and even those who didn't) subject to profanity-laced tirades.
"Coach Gonzalez earned a public reputation for obnoxious, combative and irresponsible behavior," the counterclaim states. "He antagonized players, coaches and Seton Hall and Big East Conference officials and developed an adversarial and at times ugly relationship with the sports media."
In August 2009, Hobbs was installed to "oversee" the basketball program and in September, the University announced a three-year contract extension for Gonzalez through June 2014.
During a conference call with reporters to announce the extension, Gonzalez made this statement:
"The biggest thing this does is, is it shuts everybody up," Gonzalez said. "It lets everybody know that it must be wrong, it must not be true, it's inaccurate. Because Seton Hall is stepping up and letting everybody know that he's the coach. He's going to be there. He's been there and he'll be there for the future."
The counterclaim alleges that Gonzalez's behavior did not improve in the wake of the extension and that, in fact, it deteriorated.
"Beyond persisting in the aggressive, offensive and profane behavior that had become his stock-in-trade, he regularly mistreated players and other Big East coaches and conference officials as well as members of the press, Seton Hall's administration and the community at large," the document states. "He also failed to foster an atmosphere of compliance with NCAA, Big East and Seton Hall rules and regulations among the members of his staff."
After The New York Times ran a front-page sports story on Gonzalez on March 7, the tide appeared to be turning against the coach, the counterclaim indicates.
The story, written by Pete Thamel and Kevin Armstrong, noted that Gonzalez had "openly sparred with rival Big East coaches," and described him as "one of the most divisive and volatile characters in the conference." It contained a host of negative comments about him by some of his many detractors.
After The Times' story appeared, and before the Big East tournament began, "Dean Hobbs admonished Coach Gonzalez to avoid the sort of conflict with the press that had come to define him," the counterclaim states.
Still, in his interview with The Star-Ledger, Gonzalez maintained: "In my four years I was never reprimanded for my behavior on or off the court."
Four days after The Times' story, J.P. Pelzman, a Bergen Record reporter, called Gonzalez to let him know about Mitchell's comments criticizing the coach's substitution patterns and coaching style during a Big East tournament game.
That led to the alleged threat directed at the reporter and the subsequent profanity-laced tirade directed at Hobbs.
"As his reputation grew worse and worse, he grew more and more defiant," the counterclaim states. "Eventually, Dean Hobbs. .. came reluctantly to the conclusion that Coach Gonzalez was simply an unmanageable, self-destructive individual who was either unwilling or unable (or both) to honor the conduct provisions of his Employment Agreement.
"In March 2010, Dean Hobbs correctly determined, based upon his close observation of and contact with Coach Gonzalez throughout the entire 2009-2010 basketball season, that he simply could not be trusted with furthering and safeguarding Seton Hall's mission, integrity and reputation as a Catholic university and a member of the NCAA and the Big East, and that the University had no choice but to terminate him."
After getting fired, Gonzalez did not speak publicly for nearly three months before recently giving several interviews.
In the interview with The Star-Ledger, he said Monsignor Robert Sheeran, the outgoing Seton Hall president, made this request during the meeting in which he was fired.
"He wanted me to handle things with dignity," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez added that he was "disappointed" that Monsignor Sheeran never called him in beforehand to "talk about what went wrong."
He added: "I feel like Monsignor in a lot of ways, as a president, as a priest and as the person who hired me at Seton Hall, in a way he should be ashamed of himself."