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Todd McNair gets back in the game, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

BURBANK, CALIF. -- FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, 2018: Village Christian offensive line Todd McNair talks with
Todd McNair, an assistant coach at Village Christian last season, is the new running backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Eight months ago, Todd McNair wiped away tears with the sleeve of his sport coat minutes into testifying in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The former USC assistant coach told the jury how his life changed after the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions found him guilty of unethical conduct in the Reggie Bush extra benefits scandal.

USC didn’t renew his contract. He couldn’t secure another college or professional coaching job. He plunged into depression. He cashed in his retirement account. He drove for Uber. He used food stamps. His wife took a job as a parking lot attendant.

The unemployment ended Friday — more than eight years after McNair coached his last game for USC — when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired him as their running backs coach, according to a person familiar with the situation who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

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“This is what I do,” McNair said in August. “I’ve spent my whole life on the football field. … What else am I going to do? Sell insurance? It’s a people business. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what I know.”

The coach, who spent last fall overseeing the offensive line at Village Christian School in Sun Valley, didn’t respond to a message.

After an eight-year NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers, McNair worked as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns before coaching running backs at USC from 2006 to 2010.

But the Trojans cut ties with McNair after the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions ruled that Bush, the former Trojans running back, received extra benefits from sports marketers and McNair wasn’t truthful with investigators.

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The NCAA saddled USC with historic sanctions — and issued McNair a one-year “show-cause” penalty that essentially left him unemployable by the Trojans or another school.

McNair, 53, sued the NCAA for defamation in June 2011. The discovery process revealed a trove of incendiary NCAA emails from the organization’s USC investigation. One called McNair a “lying, morally bankrupt criminal.”

When the much-delayed case finally went to trial in April, the coach’s continued unemployment became a contentious issue. He testified that attempts to land jobs with several college and professional teams didn’t work out. He faulted the stigma of the “show-cause” penalty. NCAA attorneys argued that McNair received “one of the lightest penalties” possible and blamed the coach for not submitting formal job applications.

McNair’s attorneys asked for $27 million in damages, but the jury decided in May that the NCAA didn’t defame the coach.

Three months later, however, Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller ruled that McNair’s “show-cause” penalty violated state law and issued an order voiding the provision of NCAA bylaws.

“McNair’s ability to practice his profession as a college football coach has been restricted, if not preempted, not only in Los Angeles, but in every state in the country,” Shaller wrote.

McNair’s legal fight isn’t over.

As the coach agreed Friday to join the staff of new Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, McNair’s attorneys were at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown. They argued Shaller should grant a new trial because the jury foreman worked for a law firm that briefly assisted the NCAA with an appeal in the case, though the foreman wasn’t involved in the matter.

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Shaller is expected to issue a decision later this month.

“In sum, the NCAA won the defamation claim at trial fair and square,” the organization said in a court filing opposing a new trial. “It did so despite substantial negative local media coverage for years leading up to trial.… USC media and fans attended the trial and voiced their support for McNair outside the courtroom. But the jury decided the case on the evidence and held McNair to his burden.”

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno


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