Idaho State University is investigating complaints from a football player that allege “inappropriate communication from a coach, a lack of playing time, an alleged assault by a coach during an away game, and the student-athlete being incorrectly informed about his eligibility status,” the school said in a news release Tuesday night.
The complaint, filed on Nov. 14, 2018, is in regards to safety Jayson Miller, the Idaho State Journal reported.
According to the ISU release, a coach sent the player text messages in late September or early October that included “derogatory ... race and gender-based themes.” The coach, identified by Miller in the State Journal story as assistant Jay Staggs, was removed from his position after a school investigation found “wrongdoing by the coach.”
“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,” interim athletic director Pauline Thiros said in the statement. “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.”
The second incident outlined in the complaint involves a coach “hammer punching” Miller on the shoulder pads during halftime of a game at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo. Miller told the State Journal that the person in question was head coach Rob Phenicie.
Miller told the State Journal that Phenicie hit him a second time after asking him to stop, and that the “hammer punches” caused bruising.
Phenicie has not been placed on administrative leave, according to the State Journal.
A spokesperson from Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo told the Statesman that the school’s police department received a report regarding the incident in question, but that the report itself is unavailable as an investigation continues.
“Idaho State University takes all allegations of physical assault extremely seriously,” Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee said in the statement. “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. ... We will continue to work through the investigative process with that outcome in mind.”
The school, which said it hoped to wrap up the investigation within 90 days, also acknowledged that it did not properly handle Miller’s eligibility. Miller, who missed all but one game in 2017 with an injury, was told that he would receive another year of eligibility, according to the State Journal. The school did not file the proper paperwork, however, and Miller was then told that the 2018 season was his last.
“It’s apparent that our department failed to follow proper protocol regarding eligibility for the student-athlete, and we created a clear expectation for him that he would have an additional year,” Thiros said. “For that, we apologize and are doing all we can to pursue that year of eligibility for him now. Whatever the outcome, we will honor our scholarship commitment.”
Miller is not the first player to accuse an Idaho State football coach of physical abuse. Mike Kramer, Phenicie’s predecesor, pushed wide receiver Derek Graves to the ground during a 2012 practice with such force that Graves said he injured his neck. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired the footage on national television.
Idaho State suspended Kramer for one game and the Pocatello Police Department investigated, but prosecutors didn’t pursue charges. Kramer continued to coach the Bengals until the school fired him after the 2016 season.
Phenicie took over the program in 2017, leading Idaho State to a 4-7 record and earning a three-year contract extension. The Bengals went 6-5 last fall, including 5-3 in the Big Sky, for their second winning season in the past 15 years.
Miller will attempt to file criminal charges against Phenicie, the State Journal reported.