The University of Arizona fired football coach Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday night, shortly after a USA TODAY Sports report that outlined how the school had grown uncomfortable with the direction of the program on the field amidst an investigation into a troubling off-the-field allegation of sexual harassment brought by a former athletic department employee last fall.
Arizona fired Rodriguez without cause and said in a news release it will “honor the separation terms of his contract,” which would include a $6.3 million buyout.
The school confirmed in a letter signed by school President Robert Robbins and athletics director Dave Heeke that it hired the law firm of Cohen Dowd Quigley to “conduct a comprehensive investigation” in October after the initial report of misconduct by the former employee.
Arizona says she “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.”
Though the investigation, which Rodriguez cooperated with fully, could not corroborate her claims, the former employee subsequently threatened to file a lawsuit against him and recently filed a notice of financial claim with the state Attorney General’s office.
The lawsuit could have brought significant negative publicity to Arizona once it became public, particularly in the current national environment where sexual harassment claims have rocked nearly every industry. A call to the woman's attorney was not returned Tuesday.
Rodriguez’s contract runs through May 31, 2020.
Rodriguez, 54, just completed his sixth year at the school. He was considered to be on the hot seat following a 3-9 record in 2016 but seemed to have stopped any talk of losing his job until the late-season slide.
“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,” the letter reads. “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.”
Contributing: Steve Berkowitz