O'Brien claimed the university improperly fired him in June 2004 for loaning $6,000 of his own money to a recruit.
Ohio Court of Claims Judge Joseph T. Clark ruled O'Brien broke his contract by giving the loan and failing to inform university officials, but the error was not serious enough to warrant firing. The university violated the contract by firing him without compensation, the ruling said.
The 55-year-old O'Brien sued for $3.5 million in lost wages and benefits. The award, which could reach nearly $9.5 million with interest and other damages, will be determined after another hearing.
O'Brien said he was pleased with the decision, but disappointed in the way the dispute had to be settled.