A few years back, we suggested that University of Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State‘s Todd Graham might someday become the Bo and Woody of yesteryear, when the Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry was red-hot.
That was when both Arizona coaches, hired the same year, were coming off a couple of successful seasons and Arizona was ranked No. 12 in the country and ASU No. 13.
Today, the comparison to that revered Big 10 rivalry seems pretty ridiculous. Rich and Todd aren’t Bo and Woody. Instead, they’re Done and Gone.
Two days ago, Arizona fired Rodriguez — just six weeks after Graham got his walking papers from ASU.
Graham’s departure was handled with grace and goodwill since much of the Sun Devil fan base wasn’t happy about the decision to let him go. He posted a 7-5 regular-season record, but was coming off back-to-back losing seasons. Graham was even allowed to coach his team in last week’s Sun Bowl as an opportunity to ease out of the job.
But Rodriguez’s exit was anything but amenable. His fate was swift and unexpected. And it had nothing to do with won-loss records.
It was unexpected because an investigation of sexual harrassment, conducted by an outside legal firm since October, had been kept under the radar and out of the public eye. In the subsequent report by Cohen, Dowd Quigley that was turned over to the administration Dec. 28, the law firm found that allegations that had been made by Rodriguez’s former administrative assistant, Melissa Wilhemsen, could not be substantiated.
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t going to be a lawsuit coming their way.
So the university fired Rodriguez based on what it called “the direction and climate of our football program.” Rodriguez led his 2014 team to the Pac-12 South title, posting a 10-4 record, but since then it has been mired in mediocrity. It hit bottom in 2016 when Rodriguez posted a 3-9 record.
Because no solid reason for dismissal could be validated by the investigation, Rodriguez was fired ‘without cause’ and that means he will receive the $6 million buyout in his contract, which would have carried him through the 2019 season.
It was swift because the allegations of sexual harassment, combined with the revelation of an extramarital affair (which Rodriguez has admitted), left little wiggle room for the school. Wilhelmsen’s claim laid out a rather lengthy list of examples to document what she considered to be a hostile work environment that included numerous instances of sexual harassment during the six years she worked for Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was gone within days after she filed a $7.5 million notice of claim, the required advance notice when someone is planning to file a lawsuit against a public body.
The notice of claim was filed last Thursday. On the following Tuesday, at about 8:30 p.m., the school issued a press release to announce the termination of its head football coach. That same night, Rodriguez took to twitter to call the harassment claims “baseless and false.”
Whether Rodriguez finds another coaching job or returns to the broadcasting booth, where he was when Arizona wooed him back to the game, he has added some seriously heavy baggage to go along with that which he carried away from Ann Arbor. After enjoying success at West Virginia, Rodriguez had a tumultuous three-year run as Michigan head coach, the job he held before coming to Tucson. That career stop ended with a 15-22 record that included nine losses in his first season there, a school record.
During that time the storied Wolverine program was also hit with NCAA violations for the first time in its history and Michigan fans and alumni were ready for a change.
It was no doubt difficult escaping that long shadow on his resume, which he accomplished by finding refuge in the broadcasting booth. That made his hire a bargain because the Wildcats didn’t have to buy out his contract from another school.
Instead, Arizona will now end up paying the piper on the back end as the school prepares to write out that check for $6,487,500, his buyout as of Dec. 1.