The University of Arizona’s decision to fire football coach Rich Rodriguez Tuesday night in the wake of a lawsuit from former administrative assistant Melissa Wilhelmsen has received a lot of attention overall, especially for that lawsuit’s allegations of sexual harassment and a hostile workplace environment, as well as how it ties into other claims of workplace sexual harassment.
Many of the particular allegations in that lawsuit’s notice of claim are stunning, though. While they haven’t been proven in court at this point, they deserve further discussion. First, there are the claims of Rodriguez personally sexually harassing and assaulting Wilhelmsen:
The following January, Rodriguez asked Melissa to come into office and shut door; despite her discomfort with this, she agreed to do so. Rodriguez told Melissa that he began marital counseling with his wife because of issues at home. Rodriguez emphasized to Melissa that he needs to be with someone who is passionate, and Melissa understood Rodriguez to mean that he wants her to be that person, even though Rodriguez was still married and keeping his girlfriend on the side. Rodriguez told Melissa, “Whatever you need, I’m here for you” … he then grabbed Melissa, embraced her, touched the side of her breast, and tried to kiss her. Melissa managed to pull away and move her head. Now desperate and emotional that Melissa rejected his advances, Rodriguez cried out that he had no place to stay that night. Melissa assured him that she’d find him a hotel.
… Two weeks after Rodriguez assaulted Melissa in his office, he called her back inside (again closing the door) and said he wanted to “take care of her.” Rodriguez handed her $300 in cash, but Melissa refused his money. Rodriguez begged her not tell Jason or his wife. This made Melissa even more uncomfortable that Rodriguez believed she could be bought. Melissa emailed her sister about the incident.
On February 22, 2017, Rodriguez called Melissa into office, again telling her to close the door. After closing the door, Melissa looked up in horror to see Rodriguez grasping his penis beneath his basketball shorts which were pulled all the way up. Rodriguez carried on a normal conversation with Melissa while still holding himself, but Melissa just looked down until he was through talking, so she could get out of there. Once Rodriguez had finished, Melissa darted to the restroom and recalled asking herself, “What the f*** just happened?” Eventually she returned to her desk, where Rodriguez leaned over her to start up another conversation. Melissa called Matt Dudek about the incident and they both begin calling him “the predator.”
There are plenty of other allegations in there about Rodriguez and other staffers making inappropriate comments about Wilhelmsen and even her kids, and about Rodriguez pushing her to cover up his affair with a third person when his wife asked, but the above instances particularly stand out.
Away from the sexual harassment allegations, there are also troubling suggestions that Rodriguez could have prevented player Zach Hemmila’s August 2016 death from a toxic mix of painkillers but chose not to intervene.
Rodriguez’ demand for secrecy included doing nothing about a player that needed help. On August 8, 2016, football player Zach Hemmila was found dead from a painkiller overdose.
The evening before, Matt Dudek had taken Zach to Rodriguez telling him that something was wrong with Zach and needed help. But Rodriguez did nothing simply saying, “he’ll be fine.”
Rodriguez’s knowledge of the extent of Zach’s issues was another secret Melissa had to keep.
As mentioned above, these are allegations in a lawsuit, and they haven’t been proven in court. And for his part, Rodriguez insisted in a statement that the university’s investigation cleared him, and that these claims were “baseless and false,” except for the “single truth” of his “consensual extramarital affair with a woman who is not affiliated with the university,” and that he will “vigorously fight these fabricated and groundless claims.”
— Rich Rodriguez (@CoachRodAZ) January 3, 2018
We’ll see if anything further comes from this lawsuit, but the claims about Rodriguez’s alleged behavior are certainly awful. And they help to explain why Arizona chose to part ways with him. The university didn’t fire him for cause and has said they will honor the buyout provisions of his contract. But these claims definitely don’t make Rodriguez look good, and it’s understandable that they didn’t want to be further associated with him.