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With Lawsuit Looming, Arizona Fires Coach Rich Rodriguez

Rodriguez, who was the fifth-highest paid coach in the country, went 43-35 at Arizona. 

Arizona has fired coach Rich Rodriguez on the same day a report surfaced that he'd be the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Arizona lost four of its final five games, including a loss to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl, to finish the season 7-6. Rodriguez finishes with a 43-35 record in six seasons at Arizona. 

"After conducting a thorough evaluation of our football program and its leadership, both on and off the field, President Robbins and I feel it is in the best interest of the University of Arizona and our athletics department to go in a new direction," Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said in a statement released on Tuesday night.

The statement acknowledges that the university will honor the separation terms of Rodriguez's contract. 

A notice of claim—which functions as a precursor to a lawsuit—was filed to the Arizona attorney general's office on Thursday, according to the Arizona Daily Star,which claims that Rodriguez created a hostile work environment. 

Rodriguez was previously investigated by an outside law firm after he was accused of sexual harassment, according to USA Today. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but a former administrative assistant has reportedly threatened to file a lawsuit. It is unclear if that former administrative assistant is the same person who filed the notice of claim to the Arizona attorney general's office. 

The university said it made the decision to fire Rodriguez after it became aware of information, both during and after the investigation, that made the university concerned about the direction of the program.

Rodriguez released a statement shortly after his firing became public. In it, he outlined the investigation—which he says he participated in fully—and said he passed a polygraph test. He did acknowledge that he had an extramarital affair with a woman not affiliated with the university, but said the allegations made by his former assistant are untrue. 

Rodriguez also said in the statement that the lawsuit being filed by his ex-assistant is for $7.5 million.

"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," the statement reads. "I am saddened that these accusations and investigation have caused my family additional stress."

A source told SI's Bruce Feldman that it was a firing without cause. A firing with cause—the type Louisville says it issued to former basketball coach Rick Pitino—happens when a coach is relieved of his duties for non-sport related reasons, and it could mean that the university would not have to honor the separation agreement. 

Rodriguez, 54, was the fifth-highest paid coach in the country with annual compensation exceeding $6 million, according to USA Today's NCAA salary database. 

He took over at Arizona after previous stints at West Virginia and Michigan. At West Virginia, Rodriguez gained fame for the Mountaineers' high-octane offenses and led them to three consecutive 10-plus win seasons from 2005-07. He struggled mightily under the spotlight at Michigan, where he went just 15-22 in three seasons.

Rodriguez's tenure at Arizona started well enough, as the Wildcats won 26 games over his first three seasons. But Arizona has won just 17 games over the last three years, including a 3-9 campaign in 2016. 

His tenure at Arizona has been plagued recently by multiple off-the-field scandals. The university has been sued in federal court by a victim of former running back Orlando Bradford, who will serve jail time after he plead guilty to aggravated assault. And in September of this year, freshman safety Scottie Young Jr. was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.