Arizona fired football coach Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday, citing “the direction and climate” of his program. Rodriguez, 54, had completed his sixth season with the Wildcats, and he had three years left on a five-year contract.
In a letter to the Arizona community, UA President Robert C. Robbins and Athletic Director Dave Heeke said they would “honor the separation terms” of that contract, which reportedly include a $6.3 million buyout for firing Rodriguez without cause. Thought to have been on the hot seat after going 7-6 and 3-9 in 2015 and 2016, Rodriguez had the Wildcats off to a 6-2 start before the team lost four of its final five games, including a 38-35 loss to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“This action comes on the heels of an outside investigation by the University into alleged workplace misconduct,” Rodriguez said in a note posted to his Twitter account. “This investigation concerned a complaint by my former administrative assistant, who threatened a $7.5 million lawsuit alleging harassment.”
According to the Tucson Star, the former assistant filed a notice of claim directly to the state’s attorney office, rather than initially with the university. The newspaper published some details it obtained of the notice, claiming that it “paints a culture in which secrecy was valued above all else.”
In their letter, Robbins and Heeke said the former employee “retained counsel and declined multiple requests from the University to participate in the investigation into her allegations. In addition, she was unwilling to turn over communications that she alleged provided support for her allegations.”
The officials said an investigation by a law firm the school hired found that “the original specific sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Rodriguez could not be substantiated based on the evidence and witnesses available to it.” They added, “However, Arizona Athletics did become aware of information, both before and during the investigation, which caused it to be concerned with the direction and climate of the football program.”
Rodriguez claimed he passed a polygraph test as part of the investigation and that Arizona “determined that there was no truth to her accusations and found me innocent of any wrongdoing.” He promised to “vigorously fight” the former assistant’s allegations.
“While this is a difficult decision, it is the right decision,” Robbins and Heeke said of Rodriguez’s firing. “And it is a decision that lives up to the core values of the University of Arizona.”
In six seasons with Arizona, Rodriguez went 43-35, plus 3-2 in bowl games. Known for orchestrating dynamic offenses, he began his head coaching career at West Virginia, where he went 60-26 from 2001 to 2007 and had the Mountaineers ranked in the AP top six in four seasons, before spending three years at Michigan, where he went 15-22.
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