University of Texas football coach Charlie Strong, who was the coach at the University of Louisville from 2010 to '13, faces a potentially damaging subpoena in a Kentucky divorce case. Jonathan Blue, chairman of a private equity firm and member of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, believes that Strong is a “critical witness” in Blue’s litigation against his estranged wife, Tracy, over custody of their two teenage daughters. Strong, in Jonathan Blue’s estimation, possesses knowledge that would reveal that Tracy Blue acted in ways “inconsistent with being a role model and responsible caretaker” for their children.
To advance his case, Jonathan Blue has petitioned a Kentucky judge to order Strong to turn over his cell phone, text and travel records from 2012 to present, and to compel Strong to produce clothing, jewelry and other gifts allegedly bought by Tracy Blue for Strong. Jonathan Blue’s attorneys also seek to depose Strong while under oath, at which time they could ask Strong potentially awkward questions about his interactions with Tracy Blue.
Should the judge approve Jonathan Blue’s motion, Strong still might not be deposed for many weeks. Tracy Blue plans to seek a court order that would defer depositions and other activity until after she and her husband have completed mediation. The Blues appear to be attempting to resolve at least the financial aspects of their divorce through mediation. It is possible they could also reach a compromise on other divorce matters.
Strong, who has been married since 2003 and has two daughters with his wife, will surely oppose Jonathan Blue's request that he be deposed. Strong lives out of state, works long hours and is not a party to the Blues’ custody battle. Similarly, he will object to Jonathan Blue’s subpoena and, if necessary, seek to quash it. Among possible reasons Strong could cite to not comply with the subpoena:
• He needs more time to assemble the requested materials than is allowed by the subpoena.
• He no longer possesses some of the requested materials, such as old cell phones and dated clothing items.
• Blue’s demands of Strong are excessive and burdensome, and are intended to embarrass Strong.
• Some or all the demanded evidence—such as gifted clothing to Strong and Strong’s travel records—are irrelevant to whether Jonathan Blue should have, as he demands, sole custody over his daughters.
• Blue’s demands for travel records and electronic communications would force Strong to give up trade secrets (for instance, if requested travel records are related to Strong’s methods for recruiting high school players, Strong could insist that their disclosure would compromise one of his comparative coaching advantages and thus undermine his career).
Jonathan Blue’s attorneys will likely reject any objections offered by Strong. Blue’s attorneys would then file a motion to compel Strong to comply with the subpoena. At that time, Strong could file a motion to quash the subpoena, where he would reiterate his objections and hope to persuade a judge of them. The judge would eventually make a ruling to resolve whether and how Strong would have to comply with the subpoena.
This potential sequence of motions, objections and rulings could take weeks or even months to play out. Divorce proceedings often last many months, and sometimes take several years from start to finish. For Strong, any delay could prove beneficial. He knows that Jonathan and Tracy Blue, like any estranged couple fighting over how to equitably end their marriage, might settle their differences at any time. Should that occur before Strong complies with a subpoena, the subpoena would be vacated and Strong would no longer have to comply with it.
Any allegation of “immoral” conduct could also eventually impact Strong’s employment at Texas. SI.com has obtained and reviewed Strong’s contract with Texas, which was signed in January 2014 and calls to pay the 55-year-old coach a base of approximately $26 million over five years. Like most employment contracts of significant value, Strong’s deal contains language that enables Texas to exit or suspend payment if it concludes that he acted in disfavored ways. For instance, one contractual clause expresses that if Strong engages in “any fraud or dishonesty” while performing his job duties, the school could suspend him with or without pay, or even fire him “for cause”—which means Texas would be relieved of the obligation to pay Strong on the remainder of his deal. Texas could impose the same outcome if it finds that Strong engaged in conduct “unbecoming to a head coach” or acted in a way that “reasonably brings into question the integrity” of Strong. To be sure, if Texas tried such a move, Strong’s attorneys would likely take the school to court and argue the school has misapplied these provisions. Still, the language in Strong’s contract is a reminder that even an out-of-state divorce case involving two other people might present problems for him.
On Sunday evening, Strong released a statement in which he says he has not received any court order related to the Blues’ marital dispute and that if he receives one he would respond at that time. Strong’s full statement can be read below:
“I was recently given information regarding a marital dispute between a couple I know in Louisville. I'm not a party to their divorce and have received no court order in this case. I certainly respect the legal system, and if I do receive a court order, I will review it and respond then. Since this is a legal case, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to say anything further at this time. I do want Longhorn fans and supporters to know that this will not affect my focus in any way. My number one priority is getting this team ready to compete at the highest level. We are doing that now and will continue to do so.”
Michael McCann is a legal analyst and writer for Sports Illustrated. He is also a Massachusetts attorney and the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. He also teaches Deflategate at UNH, serves as the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law is on the faculty of the Oregon Law Summer Sports Institute.