Ex-assistant to fired Arizona coach wants $7.5 million
By Bob Christie and John Marshall
A claim filed by the former assistant to fired Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez says he walked around the office in his underwear, fondled himself in front of her and forced her to cover up an extramarital affair he had with another woman.
The claim seeking damages against Rodriguez was filed by an attorney for the former assistant and her husband and is a required precursor to a lawsuit against a government official. It was released Wednesday by the Arizona attorney general’s office.
Lawyer Augustine Jimenez III is seeking a $7.5 million settlement for his clients, saying in the claim that jurors who might consider a lawsuit against a coach who misused his power could award tens of millions of dollars “in this current climate where #MeToo is in the headlines.” Jimenez didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Arizona fired Rodriguez on Tuesday night. The university said it began an investigation in October after receiving a sexual harassment complaint against Rodriguez, but could not substantiate the woman’s claims because she declined to be interviewed by the school.
“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,” a joint statement from university President Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke said.
The statement said that while the decision to fire Rodriguez was difficult, “it is the right decision. And it is a decision that lives up to the core values of the University of Arizona.”
The university said it would honor the separation terms in Rodriguez’s contract, which calls for a buyout.
The chair of the state Board of Regents, which oversees Arizona’s three state universities, said he supports the firing. But Bill Ridenour said he also wanted more transparency in long-term contracts, noting that he had ordered a review after Arizona State coach Todd Graham’s firing last month, which also carried a big-number contract buyout.
“I am very empathetic to the public concern about costly buyouts of coaching contracts and am hopeful that future contracts include mitigation clauses to avert such buyouts,” Ridenour said in a statement.
Rodriguez denied the former assistant’s allegations but acknowledged he had an affair.
“I am not a perfect man, but the claims by my former assistant are simply not true and her demands for a financial settlement are outrageous,” Rodriguez said. “I am saddened that these accusations and investigation have caused my family additional stress.”
The former assistant had worked for the university since 2001 and was an assistant to the head of football operations under former coach Mike Stoops until he was fired in 2011. The claim says Rodriguez hired her as his assistant on Stoops’ recommendation, and she “redoubled her already tireless efforts to make sure Rodriguez has a smooth transition into the role.”
The claim says her enthusiasm began to wane in 2013 with the introduction of a Rodriguez-authored “Hideaway Book” that aimed to establish secrecy in football operations. The woman and other top staff began calling themselves the “Triangle of Secrecy” and were required to help cover up and facilitate Rodriguez’s indiscretions, especially his extramarital affair, and protect his reputation, the claim says. She quit in August.
The claim outlines a series of incidents beginning in 2015 where the assistant was put in difficult positions involving the woman Rodriguez was seeing and the coach’s wife. Numerous incidents were detailed where she was required to lie to Rodriguez’s wife.
It also detailed multiple incidents of untoward actions by Rodriguez toward the woman, including walking past her in his underwear, describing how he liked tight briefs, an attempt to kiss her in his office and touching her breast and fondling himself under his shorts after calling her into his office.
The woman’s name is included in the legal claim but The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct.
Rodriguez had an immediate impact after arriving in Arizona in 2012, leading the Wildcats to four straight bowl games. Arizona stumbled in 2016, losing eight straight games to finish 3-9. The Wildcats went 7-6 last season. Rodriguez was 43-39 in six seasons at Arizona.
He arrived in Tucson after an ugly split with Michigan, where he coached for three seasons. Rodriguez went 15-22 in Ann Arbor and was hit with a “failure to monitor” charge when the school was put on three years’ probation by the NCAA.
Rodriguez made a name for himself at West Virginia, where his fast-hitting zone read offense changed the way college football teams ran their offenses. He took the Mountaineers from a three-win team in 2001 to three 10-win seasons his final three years there.
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