The New England Patriots announced today that Chuck Fairbanks, whose efforts to quit as coach and take a job with the University of Colorado became known before the National Football League playoffs, is free to leave. The Patriots said they have not hired another coach.
United Press International reported the Patriots agreed to let Fairbanks go for an estimated $500,000 out-of-court settlement.
The departure of Fairbanks, delayed by legal hassles among the coach, school and Patriots, was described as amicable by Chuck Sullivan, the club's vice president who also said the Patriots hope to fill the post within one week.
"Fairbanks will be free to undertake the coaching position with the university immediately," Sullivan said. "He probably is en route to Colorado right now."
Sullivan refused to discuss details of the settlement, but said the court cases concerning the dispute would be dropped.
Sources close to the club told The Associated Press the agreement came out of three weeks of mediation efforts by Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, who died today, and Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers.
The Pats were playoff-bound in December when, just moments before the kickoff of a New England game at Miami, Fairbanks confirmed a well-circulated rumor that he had agreed to return to college coaching at Colorado.
After verifying the rumor, Fairbanks was suspended by William H. Sullivan Jr., the club's owner, for accepting the Colorado coaching job while still under contract the Patriots at $150,000 a year.
Fairbanks returned to coach the Patriots 13 days later in their Dec. 31 playoff game against the Houston Oilers, which New England for the playoffs.
Fairbanks admitted in U.S. District Court in Boston Jan. 12 that he had been working for Colorado, piling up recruiting telephone calls from the Patriots' office. U.S. District Judge A. David Mazzone issued an injuction Jan. 15 that prevented Fairbanks from signing a Colorado contract.
The judge acted on a suit filed by William Sullivan. Fairbanks and the university filed a countersuit in Boulder. That eventually led to the scheduling of a March 29 arbitration hearing before NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.The hearing never was held because Rozelle's counsel claimed Colorado needed more time to gather legal background material.
Meanwhile, the settlement was in the works.
Several Patriots lately have said Fairbanks' recruiting activities for Colorado in December might have hindered the team in its preparation for the playoff game. The players have made clear they want a member of the current Patriot coaching staff to succeed Fairbanks.
Prime candidates are offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and defensive coordinator Hank Bullough.
Frank Kilroy, the club's personnel director, is the likely candidate to succeed Fairbanks as general manager, a title the ex-coach held as front office boss of the NFL team.
Fairbanks' contract at Colorado is expected to match if not exceed his Patriot pact, based on salary and a variety of fringe benefits including everythings to broadcast programs and a huge life insurance policy.