SAN ANTONIO — A longtime adviser to Gov. Rick Perry, upset over his abrupt firing at a Texas university, admitted Thursday he told staff he would surrender his office keys only if “anyone is man enough to take them” – all while brandishing a pocketknife in what police called a “nonthreatening” way.
Jay Kimbrough didn’t deny the confrontation detailed in a Texas A&M University police report, which includes the 64-year-old telling a school attorney to “bring it on.” He was escorted off campus and quoted an Army war hero – “I shall return!” – before riding off on his motorcycle.
But the ex-Marine, who has built something of a swashbuckling persona while filling various roles for Perry, said the incident was a matter of A&M officials not being familiar with his personality.
“There was no threat,” Kimbrough said. “This is Texas. Some people have guns when they jog. Some people have pocketknives. It was a joke.”
Packing guns while jogging was a nod to his longtime friend and boss – Perry, the Republican presidential contender who famously said he shot a coyote dead while jogging last year.
Texas A&M police said no charges were being filed against Kimbrough, who was fired Wednesday as deputy chancellor of the A&M system.
Although Kimbrough did not deny the police narrative, he told a far more mild story to the media before A&M released the report late Thursday. Kimbrough’s earlier version conspicuously left out him telling A&M general counsel Ray Bonilla that he would give up his keys and security card, “If anyone is man enough to take them.”
He then added, “Bring it on.”
Later, Kimbrough had another run-in with two plain-clothes officers who were sent to escort him off campus.
“I met Kimbrough at the entrance to the Chancellors suite and identified myself as a University Police Officer,” the report states. “Kimbrough replied, `So am I.’ Kimbrough placed his hand on both my arms and applied slight pressure towards the entrance of the Chancellor’s Suite. I placed my hands on Kimbrough and held my ground.”
Kimbrough didn’t deny that, either, but said he shook the officers’ hands and thanked them. For good measure, Kimbrough left by quoting former Army General Douglas MacArthur: “I shall return.”
Kimbrough said he was frustrated how the university handled the firing, which he caught him completely by surprise. He was let go by A&M chancellor John Sharp, who was appointed to the system’s top position earlier this month.
Sharp is a former classmate of Perry’s at A&M in the 1970s. In an email to system employees Wednesday, Sharp said Kimbrough’s position – which paid $300,000 annually – was no longer needed and thanked him for his service.
Kimbrough said Sharp never spoke to him before he was fired. A&M system spokesman Jason Cook said there would be no further comment on the firing.
“I understand (Sharp’s) authority and responsibility to decide what model he wants. I respect that,” Kimbrough said. “I was frustrated by the process.”
Kimbrough is Perry’s former chief of staff and has been used by the governor in a variety of roles. Kimbrough is widely known as Perry’s clean-up man to fix troubled state agencies.
He was named interim chancellor at A&M in June after the resignation of Mike McKinney, another former Perry chief of staff. The shake-up came during a turbulent time in Texas higher education – particularly at A&M, where faculty railed against regents for their perceived support of controversial classroom reforms.
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said neither Perry nor his office was aware of the firing until after the fact, and called the situation a personnel matter within the A&M System.
“Jay Kimbrough is a decorated war veteran who has given his life to public service. The governor has the utmost respect for and confidence in both Jay and John Sharp,” Nashed said.
Kimbrough said he’s used the pocketknife “10,000 times” in jest as a prop – his way of saying he’s seen tougher times and things could be worse. The motorcycle-riding, former Marine was wounded in Vietnam and carries something of a tough-guy reputation. He proudly tells the story of how he graduated early so he could enlist and has stayed in public service ever since.
He was fired on his 64th birthday.