Football head coach Willie Taggart reaches settlement in $125 million lawsuit over the hospitalization of three players at Oregon in 2017

Taggart and former Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde reached a confidential agreement with Doug Brenner, who filed the lawsuit against them.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

FAU football head coach Willie Taggart reached a settlement with former Oregon offensive offensive lineman Doug Brenner in a lawsuit that involved Taggart over a set of workouts at the University of Oregon in 2017 that led to the hospitalization of three players. 

“I’m extremely sorry for the incident that transpired, but I’m happy that a lot of ‘Truths’ came out during the proceedings. Now, my total focus is getting back to our FAU Football Family, and our student-athletes,” said Taggart, according to ESPN on May 5. 

In January 2019, Brenner filed a $125.5 million lawsuit against Taggart, former Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde, Oregon, and the NCAA. He was seeking over $25 million in damages from the two coaches and the university when a workout hospitalized him shortly after Taggart became head coach at Oregon in 2016.  

According to the lawsuit, Taggart and Oderinde led the workout that lasted for 60-90 minutes, where the staff “did not make water available in the workout room for at least the first day of the workouts.” This led to Brenner as well as tight-end Cam McCormick and offensive lineman Sam Poutasi being hospitalized and diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, which is damaged muscle tissue releasing its protein and electrolytes into the bloodstream which can cause permanent heart and kidney damage.

The lawsuit also stated that during the workout, players in groups of 40 were expected to do “10 perfect push-ups in unison,” where if one player was out of sync or did not use perfect technique, the entire team had to do additional exercise or start over.

Brenner, McCormick, and Poutasi rejoined the team following their hospitalizations, and Oderinde, who Taggart hired for the same position at Florida State University in 2018, was suspended for a month without pay by the university. ESPN reported that the incident also caused the university to change its reporting system, with the strength coach now answering to the director of performance and sport science instead of the head coach.

Besides Oderinde’s suspension and the reporting change, Oregon did not take any further action. 

When the law firm of Kafoury and McDougal filed the lawsuit on Brenner’s behalf, Taggart and Oderinde claimed that while the workouts were excessive, they were intended as team-building exercises, not as punishment. 

According to the Oregonian, Oderinde even apologized to Brenner during his testimony. 

I feel like I owe him a public apology. Doug, to you, your mother, your sister, to Sam (Poutasi), to Cam (McCormick), I’m sincerely sorry,” Oderinde said. “It was not my intent. Not by any means. The person that I am and I think you know. That wasn’t my intent and I’m sincerely sorry for that.” 

On May 5, attorneys announced in court they would be dismissing Taggart and Oderinde as defendants and that Brenner and the University of Oregon had reached a confidential agreement to settle the case.

Despite the dismissal of the two coaches, Brenner and his legal team maintained that they would still be seeking the $100 million in damages from the NCAA, arguing that they “acted with malice or has shown a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm” by not having any rules or regulations set in regards to over-exerting players during workouts. 

The NCAA argued that it does not have the authority to pass health and safety bylaws, and that member schools and conferences are responsible for players’ health and safety. However, the court ruled the following day against Brenner as the jury stated that they found the NCAA negligent, but would not be awarding Brenner any of the damages he was seeking.  

According to ABC, Brenner’s legal team said they will appeal the May 6 ruling. “To have a case of this magnitude decided on such a technicality is a tragedy. If the NCAA doesn’t change rules, they’re looking at a lot of future lawsuits because we’ve shown in the case that they were on notice and that if they don’t act now, then they really are reckless.” 

The UP reached out to FAU Athletics for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication. 

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron.