The University of Arizona fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez Tuesday night after allegedly running a hostile workplace and sexually harassing an employee.
By Justin Spears / Arizona Daily Star
7:17 p.m.: USA Today reports Arizona is weighing Rich Rodriguez's future
The first report of Rich Rodriguez's murky future with Arizona came from USA Today columnist Dan Wolken,who released a story on Twitter that the university was thinking of firing Rodriguez even though his contract ran through 2020.
This report came after two anonymous sources told USA Today that school officials hired a third-party law firm last fall to investigate claims that Rodriguez ran a hostile workplace.
The initial report left the university in a questionable state considering the football program dealing with two domestic violence cases in the last year, the men's basketball team is currently being investigated by the FBI for ex-assistant coach Book Richardson allegedly paying recruits and former UA track and field coach Craig Carter is facing multiple felony charges.
7:50 p.m.: Rich Rodriguez is named in sexual harassment claim
8:35 p.m. Rich Rodriguez fired after $7.5M notice of claim
Rich Rodriguez was fired as Arizona's head football coach on Tuesday after a $7.5 million notice of claim was filed with the state’s attorney general’s office alleging that Rodriguez ran a hostile workplace and sexually harassed a former employee.
The UA announced his termination in a press release around 8:30 p.m. University president Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke said they will "honor the separation terms" of Rodriguez's contract — his buyout is about $6 million.
"While this is a difficult decision, it is the right decision," they wrote. "And it is a decision that lives up to the core values of the University of Arizona."
Rodriguez, 54, just finished his sixth season as the Wildcats’ coach following stops at Michigan and West Virginia. This year’s team went 7-6, losing four of its final five games following a surprisingly hot start. Purdue beat the UA in the Dec. 27 Foster Farms Bowl.
Rodriguez tweeted a statement late Tuesday in which he said he will "vigorously fight these fabricated and groundless claims" made by his former administrative assistant. The coach said he was fired by email.
"I am not a perfect man, but the claims by my former assistant are simply not true and her demands for a financial settlement are outrageous," he wrote.
A 'hideaway book' — and a coverup
The notice of claim was filed Thursday by a former employee and her attorney. A notice of claim is an advance notice of a lawsuit against a public body. Most notices of claim are first sent to the Arizona Board of Regents or the University of Arizona itself. Her $7.5 claim went directly to the attorney general's office.
Portions of the claim obtained by the Star on Tuesday paint a culture in which secrecy was valued above all else.
The notice of claim alleges, among other things, that Rodriguez and his closest aides followed a "hideaway book" that detailed such sayings as "Title IX doesn't exist in our office." Those who had the most interaction with Rodriguez — the former employee and two assistant coaches — referred to themselves as the "Triangle of Secrecy," according to the claim. The three were charged with lying to Rodriguez's wife to cover up an extramarital affair, according to the claim, and were ordered to protect the coach's reputation above all else.
The former employee said in the claim that she "had to walk on eggshells at work, because of (Rodriguez's) volatility and sheer power over the department." Rodriguez would call her at all hours of the night, she said in the claim, to change travel plans or deal with Rodriguez's personal emergencies. In the claim, the former employee said she became increasingly troubled by Rodriguez's actions over the past year. She suffered migraines as a result, the claim states.
The UA's Office of Institutional Equity began investigating Rodriguez in October, three months after the former employee left for an off-campus job.
The investigation concluded last week, Robbins and Heeke wrote, and while counsel did not find enough to terminate Rodriguez, the university became concerned with the "climate and the direction" of the football program.
Rodriguez said Tuesday night that the complaint included "a single truth" — that he engaged in a "consensual extramarital affair" with a woman who is not affiliated with the university.
"I am still working incredibly hard to repair the bonds I've broken and regain the trust of my wife and children, whom I love dearly," he said.
Another troubling issue for the UA
The notice of claim is the latest legal issue facing the UA. Former assistant track and field coach Craig Carter is facing multiple felony charges for threatening a former athlete with whom he was involved in a sexual relationship. The case has been featured on both ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and ABC’s “20/20.”
The UA is being sued in federal court by one of three victims of former running back Orlando Bradford. The victim says the university knew Bradford was a danger to women and failed to protect her. Bradford was recently sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to two felony counts of aggravated assault.
And in August, Rodriguez was sued in civil court by Creative Artist Agencies (CAA). The agency represented the coach until the fall of 2015, and claims Rodriguez owes $230,050 in past-due fees.
Rodriguez’s contract was set to run through May 31, 2020. His buyout as of Dec. 1 was $6,487,500, according to USA Today’s annual survey of NCAA football coaches’ salaries. Because he was let go before March 15, Rodriguez will miss out on approximately $3.2 million from a master-limited-partnership provision in his contract. That pay came via publicly traded units on the so-called “Longevity Fund.” Rodriguez was set to receive 25 percent of the value on March 15. If he had been terminated any time after that, he would have been entitled to the full value of the fund.
A fast start, ugly finish
Rodriguez's hiring on Nov. 23, 2011 was seen as a coup for the UA and newly hired athletic director Greg Byrne.
Arizona won the Pac-12 South Division title and finished 10-4 in 2014, then started trending downward.
The Wildcats finished 7-6 the following season, most of which was played without star linebacker Scooby Wright. Sensing that recruiting was lagging and the defense wasn’t performing up to expectations, Rodriguez turned over Arizona’s defensive staff. He hired Boise State’s Marcel Yates as defensive coordinator and promoted Jahmile Addae and Vince Amey from analysts to full-time assistant coaches.
The injury issues worsened in 2016, when Arizona lost its top two quarterbacks and running backs at various points. After starting 2-1, Arizona lost eight in a row. Only a season-ending victory over rival Arizona State put a bandage on an otherwise painful season.
The Wildcats entered 2017 with the lowest of expectations outside the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, picked to finish last by the media in the Pac-12 South. An uneven 2-2 start only served to validate that prediction.
But in Game 5, sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate came off the bench and set a Football Bowl Subdivision record for quarterbacks with 327 rushing yards in a 45-42 win at Colorado. Tate would lead Arizona to four straight victories, winning an unprecedented four consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week awards.
The Wildcats secured bowl eligibility with a 58-37 win over Washington State on Oct. 28. They couldn’t follow up their perfect October, however, losing three of four games in November. Arizona finished the season with a 38-35 loss to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl.
The emergence of Tate and several freshmen on defense, including Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Colin Schooler, gave hope for bigger and better things to come in 2018. It also offered proof that the changes Rodriguez had made to the defensive staff were working, even if the immediate on-field results didn’t show it.
Heeke said Arizona's next head coach will "will build a solid foundation for our program and create an identity of Arizona football that the University, Tucson and Southern Arizona communities can be proud of. We’re excited about the future of our football program, and we look forward to introducing our new head coach at the completion of the search process.”
Several current and recently employed coaches would be logical candidates to succeed Rodriguez. Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Memphis’ Mike Norvell, Utah State’s Matt Wells and Syracuse’s Dino Babers, who was an assistant at Arizona from 1995-2000, will certainly be mentioned as potential replacements. Possible candidates who were recently let go but are still highly respected within the industry include Kevin Sumlin, Mark Helfrich, Butch Jones and Todd Graham. Jones was the coach at Central Michigan under Heeke from 2007-09.
Yates, who joined the staff in January 2016, will serve as the interim head coach.
It is unclear what will happen with the signing class of 16 players that Arizona announced last month. The NCAA instituted an early signing period for the first time this past December. It is possible those prospects could be let out of their national letters of intent (NLIs) if they no longer wish to attend Arizona. The NLI program controls the release process.
8:56 pm.: President Robert Robbins, athletic director Dave Heeke detail problems in football office
Shortly before 8:30 p.m., UA President Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke released an email announcing they would part ways with Rodriguez but would honor his contract, giving him roughly a $6 million buyout.
University president and athletic director Dave Heeke released a statement on their decision to fire Rodriguez.
Full statement attached from UA President Robert Robbins and AD Dave Heeke on their decision to fire football coach Rich Rodriguez."The decision is based on several factors, including the direction and climate of our football program." pic.twitter.com/AGjOQnFYbm— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) January 3, 2018
9:22 p.m.: Rich Rodriguez admits to affair but denies charges levied in claim
Rich Rodriguez tweeted this statement Tuesday night after University of Arizona officials announced they fired him as head football coach. It read:
"I was deeply disappointed to learn by email this evening that the University of Arizona is buying out my contract. My coaching staff and I were very excited about the trajectory of our young team, and looked forward to 2018 and beyond.
"This action comes on the heels of an outside investigation by the University into alleged workplace misconduct. This investigation concerned a complaint by my former administrative assistant, who threatened a $7.5 million lawsuit alleging harassment.
"The University initiated a thorough outside investigation. I fully cooperated with the investigation, including voluntarily taking and passing a polygraph. The University determined that there was no truth to her accusations and found me innocent of any wrongdoing.
"This was a thorough investigation that lasted over 10 weeks and included multiple members of my current and former staff. Notably, the complainant refused to cooperate with the investigation. It was comforting to be reassured of what I already knew, the claims were baseless and false.
"Regrettably, the complaint included a single truth — in the past, I had a consensual extramarital affair with a woman who is not affiliated with the University. It was wrong, and I have apologized to my wife and family. I am still working incredibly hard to repair the bonds I've broken and regain the trust of my wife and children, whom I love dearly."
9:48 p.m.: Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates named interim head coach
Marcel Yates was named Arizona's interim head coach more than an hour after Rodriguez was fired.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates will serve as the interim coach for Arizona.— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) January 3, 2018
Prior to Arizona, Yates was the defensive coordinator at Boise State. Rodriguez hired him to the same position just before spring practice of the 2016 season.
Yates has succeeded on the recruiting trail with two full seasons under his belt bringing in players such as freshmen Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II, Kylan Wilborn and Scottie Young Jr.
How will Yates' role change in the future? That remains to be uncertain, but for now, he's in charge.