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Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre’s mishandling of sexual assault cases shouldn’t be ignored

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The dubious histories of Ole Miss’ new coordinators raise questions of responsibility, morality and forgiveness in major college football.

Photos by USA Today Sports | Design by Jeff Gray

Last month, Ole Miss hired two big names to fill its vacant coordinator positions: former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre on defense and former Arizona, Michigan and West Virginia head man Rich Rodriguez on offense.

Matt Luke, who has just one non-interim season of head coaching experience, hired two men with a combined 24 seasons of D1 head coaching experience to serve as his coordinators. That’s impressive for a program coming off a near-last place finish in its division and more than a half a decade of NCAA investigations and sanctions.

But there are always reasons why former head coaches take coordinator roles. It is fair to say that the on-field performances of both Rodriguez and MacIntyre’s football teams warranted their respective departures—Arizona and Colorado each won just 10 games over the last two years of both coaches’ tenures.

More importantly, it is also fair—and we would argue necessary—for us to discuss both men’s handling of sexual assault cases in their previous positions, something that the Ole Miss media has largely failed to address since their hirings.

First, Rich Rodriguez

In 2017, Rich Rod was fired by Arizona in the wake of a seven-win season. Rodriguez, who’d built his reputation during a stellar run at West Virginia in the mid-2000s before stumbling through a short stint at Michigan, had found decent success in Tucson. After a pair of eight-win campaigns, the Wildcats capped a 10-win season with a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2014. But the on-field results slid after that: seven wins in 2015, three in 2016 and back to seven the year after.

But there was more going on off the football field. Four weeks after the season ended, a former Arizona athletics staff member filed a notice of claim to the state attorney general’s office alleging years of sexual harassment. The allegations included a claim that the staff member “was forced to cover up Rodriguez’s longtime [extramarital] relationship... and that eventually, Rodriguez began sexually harassing [the staff member] by brushing up against her breasts, talking about his underwear, and at one point grabbing his penis after calling her into his office.”

Rodriguez admitted to the extramarital affair but denied the sexual harassment allegations, claiming to have passed a polygraph test regarding these allegations—whatever such a claim may be worth. A third-party investigation did not find enough evidence of misconduct to allow Arizona to fire Rodriguez with cause, but the school nevertheless canned him and cited the “direction and climate of our football program.”

The issue still isn’t done—there seems to be a chance that a lawsuit against Rodriguez (and, conceivably, the University of Arizona) is forthcoming.

Just weeks after Rodriguez’s firing, a second scandal rocked Tucson. In late January of 2018, the school was named in a federal lawsuit alleging that university officials failed to take action after learning that running back Orlando Bradford had physically assaulted a woman in 2016. It was the second such lawsuit filed in the span of three months.

Bradford had been dismissed from the team five days after he was arrested on seven counts of domestic violence in 2016 (he was later sentenced to five years in prison). During a press conference announcing Bradford’s departure, Rodriguez told reporters, “We have a rule. You put your hands on a woman, you’re done. That’s it. If you did it, if you put your hands on a woman in any way, shape or form, you’re done.”

But both lawsuits claim that this alleged policy of zero-tolerance stood in stark contrast to reality; that athletics officials had known about Bradford’s predatory and abusive behavior as early as the spring of 2016. The only action taken, the suits allege, is that Bradford was moved off campus and had his access to dorms limited.

The university has stated that none of its employees were aware of Bradford’s abuse until after his arrest.

Mike MacIntyre and the Joe Tumpkin scandal

After delivering 10 wins and a Pac-12 South title in 2016, MacIntyre’s Colorado program ran aground with back-to-back five-win seasons. That on-field drop-off appears to be the biggest reason why he is no longer the school’s head coach, but he did come under intense scrutiny for his handling of domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach.

The story there is not a simple one, but here are the pertinent details:

  • In December of 2016, the former girlfriend of Buffs safeties coach Joe Tumpkin called MacIntyre to inform him that Tumpkin had been abusing her for two years. According to an account given to Sports Illustrated, Tumpkin had, on multiple occasions, “choked her, dragged her by the hair, and tossed her around his apartment and various hotel rooms,” among other things.
  • During this call, the woman told MacIntyre that she did not want these allegations to hurt Colorado or the Buffs football program, nor did she wish for Tumpkin to be arrested. During the call, she “started to cry and told [MacIntyre], ‘I don’t want the police involved because of what it would do to [Tumpkin]. I just needed someone to know—someone who could help him get well—because he is dangerous.’”
  • MacIntyre brought the issue up to athletics director Rick George. The next person to contact the woman in an official manner was Jon Banashek, Tumpkin’s attorney. Banashek is described by Sports Illustrated as the “go-to defense lawyer” for the Buffs, having represented CU players in court on multiple occasions. The woman informed Banashek that she was going to file a restraining order against Tumpkin; he informed her that MacIntyre would no longer be accepting her calls.
  • Colorado fired Tumpkin in January of 2017.
  • On Jan. 31, 2017, the court filed felony assault charges against Tumpkin, who turned himself in the next evening. He is currently on trial for five counts of second-degree assault and three counts of third-degree assault.
  • Colorado fined MacIntyre $100,000 for mishandling the allegations.

MacIntyre’s handling of this issue deserves serious criticism. First, the woman trusted him to handle her situation delicately and discreetly; she feels he betrayed that trust. Second, even with credible domestic violence allegations against an assistant, he allowed that coach to stay on staff through CU’s Alamo Bowl appearance and right up until National Signing Day. Third, he tried to delicately balance the interests of seemingly everyone but the alleged victim. Per Sports Illustrated:

According to an independent investigation into the matter, MacIntyre’s failures to report the allegation to the police and to the campus Title IX office weren’t his only missteps. After hearing about the alleged abuse on Dec. 9, 2016, during an emotional, 34-minute phone conversation with the alleged victim, MacIntyre responded by informing his athletic director, Rick George, of the allegation; by blocking the alleged victim’s number from his phone; by sharing the allegation with the alleged abuser, safeties coach Joe Tumpkin; and by giving Tumpkin the phone number for the football program’s go-to defense attorney.

An independent investigation listed three explicit failures by the university and its football program: a failure to report allegations of domestic violence internally, a failure to report the allegations to law enforcement, and a failure to supervise Tumpkin.

The woman sued Colorado for its mishandling of the situation, a suit which was recently dismissed by a federal judge.

How should Ole Miss fans feel about the allegations made against its new coordinators?

I have no reason believe the sexual harassment accusations made against Rodriguez are not true. When people say these things happened to them, they are very rarely lying. If the accusations against Rodriguez are indeed true, then he abused his power and privileges as a head football coach, forcing subordinates into personally compromising or sexually unwanted situations.

That’s a problem.

With regards to MacIntyre, his transgressions are not as direct and personal, but the alleged victim feels that he betrayed her trust and did not have her interests at heart. I cannot tell her she’s wrong to feel that way. MacIntyre’s actions, as well as the actions of the Colorado athletics department, are the result of a system designed to insulate powerful people from personally compromising situations, and to incentivize making problems “go away” rather than solving them.

In short, Colorado wanted to sweep Tumpkin’s abuse under the rug and keep MacIntyre out of trouble. MacIntyre went along with that because that was the easy thing to do, and it is what one would guess was advised to him by Colorado administrators. His actions, or inactions, are the product of a bad system that favors institutions over individuals.

That’s also a problem.

Are these problems now Ole Miss’ problems? Maybe, if even indirectly. Matt Luke and Ross Bjork certainly know of the accusations levied against Rodriguez and MacIntyre, and they know of the resulting scrutiny and lawsuits. So how have these hires been explained in light of these issues?

They haven’t. As far as we can tell, no one who covers Ole Miss football has seriously written about these stories, nor have they asked for comment from the Rebel coaches or athletics administrators. That is, to put it lightly, weird.

First, one could fairly argue that these two coaches, who have gone from Power-5 head coaches to Power-5 coordinators, have been given a demotion. It’s getting knocked down a peg because you can’t be trusted with the responsibilities of a more prominent, powerful role.

Second—and this requires a lot of faith and optimism—one can hope that Ole Miss, in recognizing Rich Rod and MacIntyre’s value as coaches while understanding the accusations levied against them during their prior roles, would make a sincere, concerted effort to monitor the conduct of its coordinators and discipline them where appropriate.

But even then, even if we can explain these decisions in light of these allegations as being safe, given both coaches’ diminished stature and a better understanding of just exactly what went wrong, it is not unreasonable for Ole Miss fans to be uncomfortable or even unhappy with these hires. It is fair for us to ask for football coaches to do the right thing, including taking measures to protect their team’s players, staff and assistant coaches from undue harm or violence. It is also fair for us to ask Ole Miss to make a commitment to fostering an institutional culture of protecting the vulnerable and promoting transparency. Ole Miss must be up front and forthcoming about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault—both in a universal, general sense, and within the football program—and be an institution that cannot and will not insulate its most powerful members from fair scrutiny and inquiry. That takes more than a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. It demands a zero-tolerance policy toward indifference.