Arizona Wildcats 75, Chaminade Silverswords 64

Arizona Wildcats assistant coach Mark Phelps implores the defense during the first half.

Mark Phelps hasn't been fired — yet. 

The UA announced Wednesday that night that it has "initiated the process to terminate" Sean Miller's assistant coach. 

"During this process, Phelps has been placed on suspension with pay in accordance with University policy," the UA said. "This personnel action is not related to the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA’s review of the facts underlying the allegations of unlawful conduct.”

Process to terminate? Personnel action?

As the Star's Bruce Pascoe reported more than a year ago, the unusual wording correlates with Arizona’s employee guidelines and the requirements it must follow with what are state employees.

Those guidelines, in essence, say Phelps can’t be fired until he receives due process.

“Private employers in Arizona can fire anybody for anything, though there’s a few things federal law prohibits,” Tucson attorney Jeff Rogers said in late 2017. “But government employment at all levels is different: You must be afforded a due process notice and an opportunity to be heard. … They have to serve you notice for the reasons of your termination and give you time to respond.”

Phelps, who makes $275,000 annually, is technically a “service professional” at Arizona, and the school’s dismissal policy for service professionals confirms that they will be offered a chance to respond before being fired.

“Just cause is required to dismiss a service professional employee,” states section 4c.4.02 of UA’s Handbook for Appointed Personnel. “Dismissal will not occur until such employee has been given an opportunity for a pre-dismissal meeting and a just cause hearing.”

UA’s handbook also says a service employee “may be suspended with pay for reasons that are in the best interests of the University, the Board, or the employee, as determined by the President.”

Phelps' attorney, Donald Maurice Jackson, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that  the coach "has performed his duties in strict compliance with NCAA and University policies." Jackson said that NCAA enforcement told him as recently as Jan. 22 that it had "made no determinations" about whether the coach broke any rules. 

Phelps will be paid his full salary until his appeal is complete. 

"Although Coach Phelps is disappointed with the decision to place him on leave, he will continue to fully cooperate with both University investigators and NCAA staff," Jackson wrote in a Facebook post. "He is confident that he will be fully exonerated and allowed to resume his coaching career."


Read more about suspended UA assistant coach Mark Phelps here: