Idaho State Investigates Abuse Claims Against Coach

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Idaho State University confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating a formal complaint filed Nov. 14 by a member of its football team who alleges he was abused by its head coach and received inappropriate text messages from an assistant coach.

Safety Jayson Miller claims head coach Rob Phenicie hammer punched him on the shoulder with enough force to cause bruising through his shoulder pads. During halftime of a Nov. 10 game at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Phenicie punched the shoulder pads of Miller, who then told the coach not to have any more physical contact with him. Phenicie then punched Miller a second time, according to the complaint filed four days later. Miller also reported the alleged punching incident to the Cal Poly University Police Department, which confirmed it has launched an investigation, and is pursuing criminal charges against Phenicie. 

Phenicie has not been placed on administrative leave during the internal investigation. When asked by the Idaho State Journal why no action has been taken against the coach, a university spokesperson responded, "Placing an employee on administrative leave during an investigation is done on a case-by-case basis, and the decision is made when the university perceives the employee to be an ongoing threat to campus, disruptive to university business, or their presence would interfere with the investigatory process. Related to this incident, the university did not place an employee on administrative leave because the situation did not meet that criteria."

"Idaho State University takes all allegations of physical assault extremely seriously," ISU President Kevin Satterlee stated in a release issued Tuesday. "The experience of our student-athletes is important to us. When our university receives a complaint, we will have the matter thoroughly investigated. Based on the investigation findings we will always take the right and appropriate action to ensure that we create an environment that is safe and supportive. Our students deserve that. We will continue to work through the investigative process with that outcome in mind."

Meanwhile, assistant coach Jay Staggs, who sent Miller and others text messages containing what the university termed "race- and gender-based themes," was immediately "relieved of his duties." With his ISU contract left to expire, Staggs took an assistant coaching position at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.

According to the Journal, Pauline Thiros, ISU's interim athletic director, said, "When Idaho State University learned about the inappropriate text messages to players, we took immediate and swift action. Conduct of this nature is absolutely unacceptable. We aim to provide an environment based on the values of equity, inclusion and respect for all people. We will not stand for actions that belittle or are disrespectful.”

Satterlee added about Staggs' alleged text messages, "That represents a culture we do not find acceptable in our programs and goes against everything our university supports."

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