CINCINNATI — A few hours after he was arrested last December for an altercation with a cab driver, Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy went on the offensive.
He vehemently denied the “heinous accusations” that he punched and taunted the driver. He insisted he would be exonerated. He had a persuasive talk with the Ole Miss athletics director, who publicly took his side.
Four months later, Kennedy is taking blame and apologizing.
The 41-year-old coach avoided jail time on Monday by pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct in Hamilton County Municipal Court. He was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and probation.
Standing in the middle of the courtroom with his hands clasped behind his back, Kennedy turned toward the cab driver and a valet and apologized “for any role that I may have played in this unfortunate incident.”
The university moved quickly to punish Kennedy, saying it would not reward him by enriching his contract. Kennedy’s deal with the university runs for three more years.
“Coach Kennedy’s on-the-court performance this season warranted a contract extension,” athletics director Pete Boone said in a statement. “Nevertheless, coach Kennedy knows that any conduct that is detrimental to the image of Ole Miss is unacceptable. Therefore, coach Kennedy and I have mutually agreed that an extension will not be consummated at this time.”
In a conference call, Boone said the decision shouldn’t affect recruiting.
Although Kennedy pleaded guilty and apologized to the cab driver and the valet who took his side in the dispute, he is still pursuing lawsuits against them. The two have filed counter suits against Kennedy.
“This case has been bizarre from the beginning, and that continues,” said David Mann, a lawyer for cab driver Mohamed Moctar Ould Jiddou.
With two words, Kennedy took the first step toward some closure. When Judge Dwane Mallory asked Kennedy whether he wanted to give up his right to a jury trial, Kennedy looked straight ahead and said, “Yes, sir.”
Kennedy declined to comment after the court appearance because the lawsuits remain. He later released an apology through Ole Miss.
“I acknowledge using poor judgment which resulted in an adverse reflection on me, my family, our program and the university that I so proudly represent,” Kennedy said in his statement.
Police said Kennedy was in a downtown bar with friends and Mississippi staff last Dec. 18, the night before a game against Louisville as part of a Big East/SEC event. When Kennedy hailed a cab, Jiddou told him there were only four seat belts in his car, so under law he couldn’t take the entire party.
The cab driver said Kennedy became abusive, called him “bin Laden, Saddam Hussein,” and punched him in the side of the face. Police were called and Kennedy was arrested on an assault charge that carried a maximum six months in jail.
Bill Armstrong, the school’s director of operations for the basketball team, also was charged with disorderly conduct that night. Armstrong pleaded guilty to a reduced charge before a different Municipal Court judge on Monday and was fined $100.
The day after the incident, Boone talked to Kennedy and said that he had “the utmost confidence that once all the facts are known, coach Kennedy will be cleared of all charges.”
Following the guilty plea on Monday, Boone said, “Andy should have handled this situation better as it relates to the time frame and subsequent dispute.”
Jiddou and valet Michael Strother declined to comment after the hearing because of the pending lawsuits. Strother’s lawyer, Phil Taliaferro, said he hopes Kennedy has “the courage to do in the civil case what he’s done in the criminal case, and that’s to admit that he was wrong and drop those cases and drop them immediately. This is outrageous.”
Associated Press Writer Timothy R. Brown in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.
Joe Kay/The Associated Press