Billy Joe Finally Begins FAMU Fight

By Mike Freeman
Updated: June 27, 2005

Billy Joe

Billy Joe

TALLAHASSEE — The letter is more than just paper and words. It is a sign that, finally, as he should have done many months ago, former FAMU coach Billy Joe is finally fighting back against the school that has treated him so shabbily.

The note is from Joe’s Tallahassee lawyer, Mark Walker, addressed to the chairwoman of the FAMU board of trustees, Challis Lowe, and was sent Thursday. It deals with FAMU’s awkward firing of Joe. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Times-Union, begins by stating that out of loyalty to FAMU, Joe has remained mostly silent about his dismissal.

Then it continues: “As you are well aware, Coach Joe had a contract which ran through Dec. 31, 2006. FAMU terminated that contract early on June 14, 2005. Coach Joe was not involved in any major NCAA violations. For this reason, FAMU should not have terminated Coach Joe under the terms of his contract.”

“FAMU also has moral obligations,” the letter says. “Coach Joe had several job opportunities at the close of 2004. At that time, FAMU was well aware of the NCAA investigation. If FAMU intended to terminate Coach Joe to appease the NCAA, then it should have done so in December, when he could have secured another job. As you can well appreciate, it is impossible for Coach Joe to secure a new football position now that active preparations for the 2005 college football season have begun.”

“We fervently hope that the Board will reach out to Coach Joe in an effort to amicably resolve these issues,” the letter continues. “If we do not hear from the Board or its representatives by the close of business Friday, July 8, 2005, then we will assume that the Board does not wish to honor its contractual and moral commitments and Coach Joe will be left with no alternative but to file a lawsuit.”

Because FAMU’s administration recently has miserably mishandled everything football, there is no reason to think they won’t fumble this latest issue as well. Joe and FAMU will likely soon be entangled in a bitter legal battle.

And you know what? I hope Joe’s lawyer is the reincarnation of Johnnie Cochran. I hope he comes up with a quip like: “Since they treated Joe bad, FAMU should be had.” And some judge or jury sends Joe out of the courtroom riding high, carried aloft on a stack of cash.

Is a Joe a complete innocent in the FAMU mess? Of course not. He must have known about at least some of the minor violations committed by the program.

Joe has made mistakes, but the FAMU administration has made even bigger ones. Two athletic directors in a year. Forcing Joe to fire assistant coaches, then asking him to rehire more right before firing Joe himself. An ill-advised move from Division I-AA to I-A made against Joe’s wishes, then blaming him when the situation blew up in the school’s face.

Throughout every mishap, every sad collapse of judgment and reason, Joe has handled it with class, while the administration has handled it disgracefully.

Even now, he refuses to comment extensively, referring all media requests to his attorney. Joe did tell me: “I was a loyal soldier and trooper for 11 years. I still consider myself a FAMU person. There is going to come a time when I expose things and talk about things. Now is not that time.”

Hopefully, that time will come soon.