Arizona Wildcats assistant coach Mark Phelps has been placed on administrative leave and the UA has “initiated the process to terminate” him, it announced Wednesday.
Yahoo! reported Monday that Arizona is currently under NCAA investigation for its involvement in the college basketball corruption scandal, but the UA says the suspension 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.”
“The University of Arizona is committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct and our commitment to those principles is unwavering. The decision to remove Coach Phelps immediately is a direct result of that commitment,” athletic director Dave Heeke said in a statement. “We strive to compete within the rules of the NCAA and the PAC-12 Conference, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA. Coach (Sean) Miller fully supports this decision, which we agree is in the best interests of our men’s basketball program and the University.”
Jeff Goodman of WatchStadium is reporting Phelps was suspended because of “a fraudulent online course” involving former UA commit Shareef O’Neal, who wound up at UCLA.
The interesting part of this suspension with the intent to terminate Arizona assistant Mark Phelps is that it comes from the school while the NCAA is still investigating the situation. Again, it involves a fraudulent online course with ex-Arizona commit Shareef O’Neal.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) February 7, 2019
Alabama attorney Donald Maurice Jackson released this statement on Phelps’ behalf:
Coach Phelps has performed his duties in strict compliance with NCAA and University policies. In correspondence dated January 22, 2019, Counsel for Coach Phelps was advised of the following by the NCAA Director of Enforcement: ‘At this point, the enforcement staff has made no determinations regarding potential violations involving Coach Phelps as we are still in the process of collecting information and conducting interviews.’ 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. He is confident that he will be fully exonerated and allowed to resume his coaching career.
The Arizona Board of Regents was scheduled to meet Wednesday or Thursday to discuss legal advice regarding UA basketball.
This is not the first time Phelps has been reprimanded. The 53-year-old was suspended for five days without pay last season, which was reportedly the result of buying a plane ticket for former Arizona forward Keanu Pinder.
Phelps has been on Miller’s staff since 2015.
Former UA assistant Book Richardson was fired last year after being charged with bribery due to his involvement in the college hoops corruption scandal.
Richardson recently pleaded guilty and could face 18 to 24 months in prison.
The conduct of Phelps and Richardson could jeopardize Miller’s future with the program, as NCAA Bylaw 11.1.1 states that “a head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach” and that “the head coach will be held accountable for violations in the program unless he or she can rebut the presumption of responsibility.”