The Arizona Wildcats have fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez, UA athletic director Dave Heeke announced Tuesday.
The decision was based on several factors, including “the direction and climate of the football program,” according to a UA email co-signed by Heeke and UA president Robert C. Robbins.
The UA will honor the separation terms in Rodriguez’s contract — a $6.3 million buyout — and is initiating a national search for a new head coach, using a search firm to assist with the process.
“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,” 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.”
Rodriguez posted a 43-35 career record in six seasons at Arizona. The 54-year-old entered the 2017 season on the hot seat after going 3-9 in 2016, and while Arizona did improve to 7-6 in 2017, it lost four of its last five games including the Foster Farms Bowl.
However, Brett McMurphy reported Tuesday that Arizona had already decided to fire Rodriguez before that game.
Rodriguez also had legal issues, as he was accused of sexual harassment in Oct. 2017. An internal investigation found the claims unsubstantiated based on evidence and witnesses, but “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,” a UA email said.
A tidbit from USA Today could suggest why Arizona waited until after the New Year to let Rodriguez go:
Rodriguez’s contract runs through May 31, 2020.
Using Jan. 1, 2018, as the termination date, under the terms of the agreement, being fired for cause would cost Rodriguez at least $10.2 million. That includes more than $3 million that would have been owed, or vested, to Rodriguez had he been Arizona’s head football coach on March 15.
Here is the full email co-signed by Heeke and Robbins that was sent out to UA students, faculty, and staff on Tuesday night:
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.