Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez, whose job status seemed secure after a 7-6 season in which sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate rose to national prominence, has been fired.
After a USA Today story broke Tuesday night regarding Rodriguez’s job status amid a looming lawsuit, the school announced his firing.
“After conducting a thorough evaluation of our football program and its leadership, both on and off the field, President Robbins and I feel it is in the best interest of the University of Arizona and our athletics department to go in a new direction,” athletic director Dave Heeke said in a statement.
“We’ll move through the coaching search in an effort to identify a head coach that 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.”
The firing was done without cause, giving Rodriguez his full buyout — about $6.3 million — although the impetus of the firing seems to be a possible lawsuit following an investigation this fall for potential workplace misconduct, according to the USA Today story.
AllSportsTucson.com has confirmed that Arizona athletic department officials met at length over the weekend about the matter.
The school hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegation. According to USA Today, although “no misconduct was determined by the probe, which Rodriguez cooperated with fully, a former administrative assistant subsequently has threatened to file a lawsuit against him.”
The paper added that Arizona officials expect that lawsuit to be filed this week.
Rodriguez, 54, is 43-35 in six seasons at Arizona. He was hired at Arizona by athletic director Greg Byrne, now the AD at Alabama.
Rodriguez’s contract includes two more seasons and runs through May 31, 2020.
Heeke and school president Robert C. Robbins released a letter to the Arizona campus community:
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
Today is a difficult day for the University of Arizona but also a day on which we reaffirm our commitment to our values — and to ourselves.
This evening, we informed Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez that we have terminated his employment effective immediately and will honor the separation terms of his contract. The decision is based on several factors, including the direction and climate of our football program.
Let us share with you what we are able to at this time.
In October 2017, the University’s Office of Institutional Equity retained outside counsel to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Rodriguez, after a former employee in the Department of Athletics alleged that Mr. Rodriguez harassed her on multiple occasions. Like all University employees, Mr. Rodriguez is entitled to a fair investigation and due process and at no time has the University believed that Mr. Rodriguez posed any danger to a member of the community.
The law firm of Cohen Dowd Quigley was retained by the Office of Institutional Equity to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the allegations made by the former employee, and that investigation began in October. After her initial report to the University in October, 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 and recently filed a notice of a financial claim against Mr. Rodriguez.
The investigation, which concluded on December 28, 2017, found that the original specific harassment allegations against Mr. Rodriguez could not be substantiated based on the evidence and witnesses available to it. 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.
As a result, we have been reviewing the findings and deliberating our course of action. While this is a difficult decision, it is the right decision. And it is a decision that lives up to the core values of the University of Arizona.
We have outstanding young men in our football program and tremendous employees who will continue to work hard on behalf of the Arizona family. We are confident that we will find a new leader of our program who will take us to great heights with men and women of character and talent, on and off of the field.
Robert C. Robbins
Director of Athletics