For Greg LaFleur, a check doesn’t balance out what he has lost
Just hours before Connecticut beat Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship outside Dallas on April 7, Greg LaFleur finally got some restitution — and vindication — in a case that had tarnished his name since UConn won its last national championship in 2011.
It came in the form of a check for $150,000, the long-awaited payout of a settlement with Southern University, which had fired LaFleur three years earlier, to the day, after LaFleur was arrested and charged with soliciting a prostitute at the 2011 Final Four in Houston.
LaFleur was eventually acquitted of those charges in January 2012, but a clean slate in the eyes of the law hardly marked the end of LaFleur’s personal strife. In fact, the not-guilty verdict was only the beginning of a prolonged, ongoing struggle for the sullied former NFL tight end.
In the two years since his acquittal, LaFleur has been unable to find another job in athletics, despite submitting a laundry list of applications to athletic director positions and other jobs at universities big and small. Virtually all of the 89 applications LaFleur has sent out to date have gone unanswered — long since shredded or lost in the ether of the World Wide Web — and only one, for the AD job at Tuskegee University, even earned him an interview.
“The thing that disappoints me more than anything,” LaFleur told FOXSports.com recently, “is that I follow up on all of these jobs and I look at the people that they hire, it kind of tells you what went through their minds. Because my experience compared to the people that they hire, in most cases, is not even close.
“I’ve been an AD at every level,” added LaFleur, who worked in LSU’s athletic department for 12 years then served as the athletic director at Texas State and Chicago State before landing at Southern. “I worked at the highest level in college athletics, and I played at the highest level of athletics. So things were looking up until that incident.”
All of the time off hasn’t passed without its benefits for LaFleur. Three years of joblessness has allowed LaFleur to reconnect with his oldest son, Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre, and spend more time with his youngest son, 9-year-old Greyson, who lives in Austin. For those opportunities, LaFleur is certainly grateful — the demands of an athletic director’s job never did leave much time for family life, after all — but $150,000 is hardly set-for-life money, and LaFleur knows he has to find a way to get back to work soon.
“When it’s three years (since my acquittal), then I’ll probably back off of it,” LaFleur said of his job search. “I may go a little longer, but I’m hoping that I’ll have a job before the 3-year mark hits. I’m not totally discouraged because I’ve been blessed, but at the same time, I’m worried. I’m 55 years old and I’d rather be working.”
During his time at Southern, LaFleur says he “ruffled some feathers” with certain officials at the university — doing so long before his eventual arrest and subsequent firing. In fact, LaFleur never got a chance to defend himself and was fired before he even returned to campus.
And LaFleur says that many of the issues he tried to tackle head-on during his six years at Southern — among them a complimentary ticket program that was bleeding money, a radio contract that left Southern paying for the right to be broadcast, the inefficient use of suites at the football stadium, the unfair distribution of Bayou Classic tickets and the hiring of a high-priced marketing firm to promote the annual rivalry game with Grambling — were met with resistance.
LaFleur is careful to note that these challenges were not necessarily the motivation behind his nearly instantaneous dismissal after his booking in Houston, but one can surmise that any past conflicts certainly wouldn’t help his case in the wake of an arrest.
“I was taking on some stuff that should have been fundamental,” LaFleur said. “… I can’t say that for sure (whether it cost me my job), but what I can say is that I didn’t know of any other way to do business. If I knew of another way to raise money or whatever, maybe I wouldn’t have taken it on as hard as I did, but I was going full speed trying to get those things done because that’s the basics; that’s where things start.”
I can share my story with other people and tell them how things can happen in life that can set you back even if it’s not necessarily accurate.
All things considered, however, LaFleur says he’s not resentful of the university that let him go, and in fact, still considers himself an avid supporter of the program.
“Southern was home for me,” the Ville Platte, Louisiana, native said. “My parents went to Southern, my twin sisters went to Southern, my brother graduated from Southern, I have a niece at Southern now, I had a nephew who will be going to Southern next year. Had LSU not recruited me, I was probably going to go to Southern. Matter of fact, my parents have owned season tickets at Southern for 35 years, and they still do.
“…That made (my dismissal) very hard because I had a true love for Southern and I only wanted what was best for the university. … I feel like they have a lot of potential, and I would still like to see them reach it.”
Still, LaFleur says this chapter of his life won’t fully be closed, even with an acquittal and settlement in hand, until he’s back doing what he loves as an athletic director — a job he thinks he’s better suited for than ever after a turbulent last three years of his life.
“I can share my story with other people and tell them how things can happen in life that can set you back even if it’s not necessarily accurate,” LaFleur said. “Those things can affect you for the rest of your life, and I can teach people how you have to deal with it and how you can’t let it get the best of you. It is very challenging, but I feel like I can help someone because of what happened to me.
“Any time you have life experience and you’re dealing with anywhere from 100 to 300 athletes, there’s somebody that you’re going to be able to touch. I won’t be the only person who’s gone through some stuff that’s that severe, and some of these young athletes, they’re going through a hell of a lot. And to know that there’s someone who can empathize with what they’re going through, it makes a difference.”