College Sports

ISU concludes investigation into football program, finds claims of abuse ‘unsubstantiated’

Idaho State football coach Rob Phenicie verbally agreed to a three-year contract extension this week. Contract details will be worked out after the season.
Idaho State football coach Rob Phenicie verbally agreed to a three-year contract extension this week. Contract details will be worked out after the season. Courtesy of Idaho State

Idaho State University has finished an internal investigation surrounding the alleged abuse of a football player by the head coach, finding that the player’s claims were “unsubstantiated” and that no disciplinary action will be taken.

“Idaho State University took these allegations very seriously, and we will always take steps to ensure a thorough and complete investigation informs our actions in these matters,” ISU President Kevin Satterlee said in a press release. “When we identify areas of the university that need to be improved, we will always take that as an opportunity to provide a better environment for our students.”

On Jan. 8, Idaho State announced that it was investigating claims by an unnamed player of “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.” That player, since identified as defensive back Jayson Miller, filed the complaint in November 2018.

Miller alleged in an interview with the Statesman that head coach Rob Phenicie punched him on the shoulder pads during an away game at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. According to prior Statesman reporting, Miller said that Phenicie came into the locker room at halftime “visibly frustrated and upset” and hit him with a closed fist on the shoulder pads hard enough to cause bruising.

Miller said he felt it was inappropriate and done out of anger and frustration, although he does not believe that Phenicie necessarily sought him out. Miller said he approached Phenicie and expressed that the interaction was inappropriate; Phenicie then “hammer punched” him again and said, “you can take it,” according to Miller.

Idaho State acknowledged that it misinformed the same player of his eligibility and that his scholarship will be honored through 2020. The release did not mention the player’s eligibility to play college football again, however.

Miller, listed on Idaho State’s website as a redshirt junior, told the Statesman that he was informed he was out of eligibility the day after the alleged incident with Phenicie. Miller said he thought the two were directly related.

Miller missed much of the 2017 season with a knee injury and said he was under the assumption that he would gain a redshirt year, which would have made 2018 his third season and 2019 his fourth. That paperwork was never filed, Miller claimed, and coaches told him that he would celebrate with other seniors during Senior Day.

Idaho State said proper waivers were not filed with the Big Sky Conference or the NCAA.

An assistant football coach, identified by Miller as Jay Staggs, was relieved of his duties in January after sending players text messages that had “derogatory ... race and gender-based themes” in them. Idaho State acknowledged “wrongdoing” on that coach’s behalf.

Michael Katz covers breaking news at the Idaho Statesman. He attended the University of Southern California and grew up in Pasadena, California.