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What the Devil won't tell you

RichRod accuser has UA football by the pigskins

System protecting powerful men is now fostering their undoing

The case of Rich Rodriguez's tumbling from his perch atop University of Arizona Wildcat football hits the athletics department at the worst possible time, with another scandal that may spin off at least one more.

Time and space have collided around the coach's former assistant who has launched a $7.5 million sexual harassment claim against the now-fired coach, and she has the program by their pigskins – not that she had any way of knowing how it would play out until it did.

A couple things first:

Someone remind me again what the problem was with Dick Tomey. Great teams, near-misses for national-title consideration and a guy with a reputation as sterling as anyone in Tucson.

Lost somewhat among the salacious allegations against Rodriguez in the claim is the charge that he failed to protect a player's safety. Zach Hemilla died of a painkiller overdose. The claim puts forth that an assistant warned Rodriguez that Hemilla was in a bad way but the coach blew it off. The student-athlete was found dead the next day. Ponder that pending potential lawsuit.

Now back to our story:

Rodriguez was fired "without cause" from his coaching position after a kinda-sorta outside investigation turned up something troubling after his former assistant complained about sexual harassment, but it's more than that. Her claim — a precursor to suing a state employee — also states also that she was put into a position to defend his secrecy and reputation at all costs.

So the pending lawsuit means more scandal for an athletic department that is dreading federal and NCAA investigations into the basketball team, which could face the kind of sanctions from which programs do not swiftly recover.

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Facing both at the same time, or even consecutively, would be a publicity nightmare for the UA. Might I posit the administration chose not to do battle on multiple fronts and cut Rodriguez loose.

Today, a woman like the complainant is in a position to turn the UA's power against itself, which is ironic because if women felt like they had the personal authority to tell bosses to back the hell off at the first transgression, everyone would be fine aside from some ego bruising.

The accusations are allegations. Rodriguez denies them all but for having an extramarital affair. They are not corroborated in the court document and never are at this stage. That's where the depositions, reviews of documents and phone records, and testimony kick in. The UA hired a Phoenix law firm to launch its own outside investigation into the charges but the complainant refused to cooperate. She chose instead to stand pat and await the outcome of her legal team's work. Still, the school's lawyers found enough to convince UA President Robert Robbins and Athletic Director Dave Heeke to fire him after six seasons.

The day the UA inquiry found that the former staffers "specific allegations ... could not be substantiated based on the evidence and witnesses available to it," the woman filed notice with the state Attorney General's Office (rather than the university or Board of Regents) that she intended to sue the coach — with a detailed document that is a public record.

Whole lotta patriarchy coming at ya

I've written previously about the need for due process in these cases, but the complainant thwarted the school's efforts to quietly provide it. Why should she have done that?

Goliath is a monster in the court of law with his legal team in Italian suits. Goliath never has a good day in the court of public opinion, where the masses think he's an asshole.

There's also a problem with due process in these cases because it grants the right to face and cross-examine that accuser. That system is adversarial, pitting lawyer against lawyer. When one party can afford steep legal bills and the other can't, then the system is tilted. When one party is an assistant and the other is a $6-million-a-year head coach of a major college football program, the weight of the testimony may not be balanced. When the “outside legal firm" Cohen Dowd and Quigley doesn't list the University of Arizona as a client but does include the Arizona Board of Regents, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, the “outside-i-ness” suddenly feels homey.

And if the institution's job is to determine if it's got a legal liability, then the fix may be in to protect the institution's legal exposure. Throw in government funding and now administrators aren't so much attacking the accuser as protecting the taxpayer. Ever wonder why internal investigations always seem to determine the officer operated correctly?

The "fix being in" is supposedly justified by an impersonal imperative to protect the hierarchy that runs the institution.

The former assistant took a path that couldn't be swept over by the UA's lawyers offering a quick payoff to keep it secret.

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Just like the Catholic church's pedophilia scandal was as much about the bishops hiding the offending priests than the priests themselves, sexual harassment in the workplace may be more about the structures letting it fester.

I'm going to get a bit obscure and invoke historian Yuval Noah Hasari, who suggested back in 2015 that men thrive in particular in societies that are administrative, impersonal and hierarchical. It wasn't a conclusion it was something he just tossed out there and I love this theory because men love being impersonal and we understand the hierarchical institution. Administrating the whole system requires a degree of impersonal thinking and hierarchy helps commandments flow down from on high.

I'm not saying militaries, corporations and football programs are corrupt by their nature. Guys created corporate, government and military structures to fit how they relate best to one another. I'm saying these structures are especially susceptible to the rot of things like sexual harassment. It's power. It's not personal. The hierarchy and can abide the behavior to protect the corporate whole.

When we are talking about a cultural shift in the work place, a wholesale reworking of this system may be what we're talking about. Smaller work teams, more collaboration and more interpersonal environments may be a way to start. It may be inevitable as women begin to take their place and change those environments more to their liking. Say the complainant is telling the total truth. If she felt free to say “stop,” at any moment, Rodriguez would still have a job.

Women will always be at a disadvantage in these systems until they aren't. Even if the outside investigation means well, that's a whole lot of patriarchy coming at the woman.

The grand scheme

Rodriguez's accuser says in her claim she began suffering from migraines and recurrent nightmares over her treatment. If her story is even half correct, she suffered on the job and eventually was forced out because she experienced a rotten workplace.

To read her account, she enjoyed her job under former head coach Mike Stoops and when he was fired she wound up moving up to the position of Rodriguez's assistant. She had a kid at the university and saved a fortune on tuition so she didn't want to leave the university even after her job turned nasty. She tried to transfer to the fundraising office but Rodriguez blocked her efforts.

Her claim describes inappropriate touching (of her and Rodriguez's own self – if you catch my drift), declarations of love even though she was married – all against a backdrop of covering his tracks and having her off-time gobbled up by his personal requests for her immediate attention.

Arizona employment laws aren't exactly robust in their protection of worker rights because the Legislature and governors have established these laws to protect business owners. Talk to any lawyer who works in labor law and the first thing they will tell you is “document everything.”

Wired for sound

I bring this up because the complainant appears to have done exactly that. Her claim begins with general allegations about Rodriguez beginning to keep a "Hideaway Book" in 2013, and that three of the coach's top assistants formed what was known as a “Triangle of Secrecy.”

It reads like this:

By the summer of 20l5, (the complainant) was newly wed to Jason, but most of her attention had to be paid to Rodriguez, who had become more and more demanding. Jason recalls being shocked about the stories of Rodriguez berating staff members and how (the complainant) had to answer Rodriguez's calls at all hours of the night just to change travel plans or make some other requests, which were only emergencies to him.

She had to walk on eggshells at work, because of his volatility and supreme power over the department. Jason even recalls some instances during this time period where football players sent (the complainant) screenshots of their genitalia and illicit overtures via texts. When she asked Rodriguez to intervene, he ignored her.

By the holiday season 2015, her claim's nature changes:

On November 6, 2015, Rodriguez asked (the complainant) to get a sideline pass for his friend for the USC game in Tucson, which turned out to be his girlfriend. During the game, (the complainant) realized that Rodriguez's wife was also on the sideline. At some point (she) had to stand between the two hoping to avoid a confrontation. The following Monday, (the complainant) complained to Rodriguez about how upsetting it was to be placed in that situation. Rodriguez laughed it off without acknowledging her stress or sense of betrayal to his wife.

On January 27, 2016, (the complainant) was in Tucson when she received a call from the San Diego Marriott about a barking dog in Rodriguez's room. Rodriguez was supposed to be on a recruiting visit.
(She) called Rodriguez who didn't immediately answer. Later she teamed from Coach Rod Smith that Rodriguez had walked out of their meeting when the phone rang, but did not answer.

Coach Smith also confirmed that the dog belonged to the girlfriend.

Notice the difference? For 21 months, she seems like she was wired for sound, knowing that would make her case stronger.

The complainant says she eventually found another job and had planned to leave quietly until she realized rumors and innuendo involving her and Rodriguez had tarnished her reputation. So in October, she took action.

The reality of payback

As she was keeping dates and documenting, she had no way of knowing Harvey Weinstein would be vaporized by sexual harassment any more than she knew the UA athletic department would be gearing up to cope with potentially crippling NCAA sanctions on the basketball team. She kept records for years pre-Harvey when women filing these claims were viewed with more suspicion.

And why should she be the one to leave her job if she's not the one creating the lousy work environment? Why shouldn't she squeeze like they squeezed her? I think guys can understand “payback is a bitch.”

Rodriguez's reputation got crunched Tuesday night when he was told he was fired.

The university can say it's about this or that, or has nothing to do with that deal over there they are pretending not to pay attention to, but Google won't make that distinction.

He's now a sexual harasser in the workplace. He's toxic. He was fired – period – in the shadow of a former staffer's claims, so he doesn't even have anything specific to refute so he can't explain why he got axed and what was B.S.

Rodriguez, while acknowledging that he'd had an affair, claimed on Twitter that he was "found innocent of any wrongdoing" by the university, and that he took a polygraph test. But even if you buy his contention that the university "determined that there was no truth to her accusations," UA President Robert Robbins said the school became "aware of information, both before and during the investigation, which caused it to be concerned with the direction and climate of the football program."

Not to put RichRod on trial here and now, but to claim vindication in an investigation that didn't include his accuser is sort of like savoring a round of applause from an audience clapping with one hand. There's a key element missing from the good news.

Men in powerful positions have shown themselves to use that power to defend and perpetuate the behavior that will wreck them. Maybe they should let the women do some rearranging because the ass they save may be the bossman's own.

As reality stands, women now face lawyers and adversarial process over here but the media and frontier justice over there.

Rodriguez's accuser picked the venue to make her case and left the UA and Rodriguez swinging slings in a gun fight.

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Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.
Correction: Thanks to an alert reader, we’ve corrected the name of UA’s athletic director.


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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

Then-new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez speaks with his players after the annual spring game in 2012.

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