Chris Zorich

File photo. Chris Zorich at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill. Zorich became the athletic director at Prairie State in 2015. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

CHICAGO — Former Chicago Bears and Notre Dame star Chris Zorich was terminated without cause from his position as Chicago State athletic director, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune.

The university announced July 30 it had parted ways with Zorich, whom it hired in May 2018. Chicago State did not respond to questions from the Tribune about the reason for his departure, and the documents the Tribune obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request did not reveal why he was fired.

Zorich declined to comment when the Tribune reached him Thursday.

The separation agreement between Zorich and Chicago State states: “I have been informed that the University has decided to terminate my employment. As stated in Section 5.2 of my employment agreement, this termination is without cause.”

The documents show the university agreed to pay Zorich a lump gross sum of six months of his salary ($67,500) plus payment for vacation time owed ($10,450.49).

The records show Zorich was fired July 25. Chicago State named Jimell Bryd-Reno interim athletic director.

The agreement says Zorich agreed not to sue the university except to enforce terms of the deal. The documents included a confidentiality agreement about his termination.

A tweet July 30 from Zorich’s Twitter account read: “We strived to keep the welfare of our student-athletes as our primary mission. I want to thank the administration, coaches, staff and student-athletes for providing me with the opportunity to serve them.”

Zorich, a Chicago native who graduated from Vocational High School, played defensive tackle on Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team and was a consensus All-American in 1989 and ’90. He played for the Bears from 1991 to ’96 and the Redskins in ’97.

Before serving as Chicago State’s athletic director, he held the same position since 2015 at Prairie State College, a community college in Chicago Heights.

After taking over at Chicago State, he quickly hired Lance Irvin to coach the men’s basketball team and Misty Opat to coach the women’s basketball team. Both teams struggled last season, as they have historically, with the men finishing 3-28 and the women 2-28.

Zorich replaced interim athletic director and former men’s basketball coach Tracy Dildy as the school tries to recover from years of financial turmoil and administrative turnover. Chicago State was among the hardest-hit public institutions during the state’s budget crisis, leading trustees to declare a state of financial emergency in 2016.

The university laid off employees, and its accreditation agency issued sanctions while the 2015 graduation rate fell to about 11 percent and the 2016-17 freshman class plummeted to 86 students.

A USA Today report showed Chicago State’s athletic department revenue of $5,249,433 in 2016-17 ranked 226th out of 230 public Division I colleges. Before Zorich’s hiring, athletic department members discussed how they had to scrimp on travel and equipment to keep their programs functioning.

Zorich’s past financial issues raised questions when he was hired. The Illinois attorney general’s office launched an investigation into his charity foundation after a 2010 Tribune report found its finances in disarray. In August 2012, Zorich agreed in court to pay back more than $300,000 in unaccounted funds.

In July 2013, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for failing to file federal income tax returns from 2006 to ’09. Zorich’s three-year probation was dropped after a year once he completed his community service and paid a fine.

“Those mistakes, I learned from them,” Zorich told the Tribune shortly after he was hired by Chicago State. “Those financial issues were not because of a lack of financial acumen. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t in charge of that aspect. I took full responsibility. … I learned from it, I owned up to it. Now I’m ready to go to the next step in my life. I’m excited about the future.”

Zorich’s Twitter account has posted supportive messages to the Chicago State women’s basketball team even after his termination.

2019 Tribune Content Agency.

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