Arizona parts ways with Miller amid investigation

Arizona had stuck by men’s basketball coach Sean Miller through an NCAA infractions investigation that stretched nearly four years.

When the school didn’t extend his contract beyond next season, it became clear a decision would need to be made.

The wait came to an end Wednesday when the school announced Miller was leaving after 12 seasons and associate head coach Jack Murphy will serve as interim head coach.

“We’re evaluating the overall position of the program, and that includes on-court and off-court elements,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said. “When you step back and evaluate where the program is, we have incredibly high standards to have success on and off the court. We evaluated it and we decided at this time it’s the appropriate time to make a change so we can restore and rebuild the overall status of this world-class basketball program.”

Miller and the Wildcats have been in the NCAA’s crosshairs since being ensnared in a 2017 FBI investigation into shady recruiting practices.

The NCAA issued a Notice of Allegations last year and the case is currently going through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process. Arizona issued a self-imposed postseason ban this year and finished 17-9, 11-9 in the Pac-12.

Miller became the third Wildcats coach to reach 300 wins with the program and went 302-109 in 12 seasons. Arizona reached the Elite Eight three times, won five Pac-12 regular-season titles and three Pac-12 Tournament titles under Miller.

But Arizona failed to reach the Final Four under Miller and had not won an NCAA Tournament game since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2017. The school said it will honor the final year of Miller’s contract.

“After conferring with Dave Heeke since the season’s end, it has become clear that our men’s basketball program – and our University – needs to write a new chapter in our history, and that begins with a change of leadership,” university President Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “Arizona Basketball means so much to so many and, as stewards of the program, we must always act in the best interests of the university. I believe our future is bright, and I look forward to welcoming a new head coach to the Wildcat family.”

Miller routinely pulled in some of the nation’s top recruiting classes after being lured from Xavier in 2009, but his recruiting methods came under scrutiny when assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was among 10 people arrested as part of a federal corruption investigation into college basketball.

Richardson was fired by the university and later pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes from aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins. He was sentenced to three months in prison in 2019.

Miller sat out a game in 2018 after ESPN reported that he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to future No. 1 overall NBA pick Deandre Ayton. Miller vehemently denied the report and Robbins announced a few days later that Miller would remain the Wildcats’ coach.

The NCAA Notice of Allegations sent in October had nine counts of misconduct, including a lack of institutional control and failure to monitor by the university, and lack of head coach control by Miller.

“It was obviously a difficult and very important decision,” Heeke said. “I wanted to take the time to consult, have the appropriate conversations to understand the direction and then ultimately that’s why we landed where we are today.”

Woods was speeding when he crashed SUV

LOS ANGELES | Tiger Woods was driving more than 80 mph — nearly twice the posted speed limit — on a downhill stretch of road when he lost control of an SUV and crashed in a wreck that seriously injured the golf superstar, authorities said Wednesday.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva blamed the Feb. 23 crash outside Los Angeles solely on excessive speed and Woods’ loss of control behind the wheel. The athlete will not face any citations for his third high-profile collision in 11 years.

“The primary causal factor for this traffic collision was driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway,” the sheriff told a news conference.

Woods was driving 84 to 87 mph in an area with a speed limit of 45 mph, Villanueva said. No one else was hurt, and no other vehicles were involved.

The stretch of road is known for wrecks and drivers who frequently hit high speeds. Due to the steepness of the terrain, a runaway truck escape lane is available just beyond where Woods crashed.

There was no evidence that the golfer tried to brake, and investigators believe Woods may have inadvertently stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal in a panic, said sheriff’s Capt. James Powers, who oversees the sheriff’s station closest to the crash site.

Woods was wearing a seat belt at the time, and the vehicle’s airbags deployed. He told deputies that he had not taken medication or consumed alcohol before the crash, sheriff’s officials said.

Detectives did not seek search warrants for Woods’ blood samples, which could have been screened for drugs or alcohol, or his cellphone. Authorities said there was no evidence of impairment or of distracted driving, so they did not have probable cause to get warrants. Investigators did search the SUV’s data recorder, known as a black box, which revealed the vehicle’s speed.

On Twitter, Woods thanked first responders, as well as the people who called 911.

“I will continue to focus on my recovery and family, and thank everyone for the overwhelming support and encouragement I’ve received throughout this very difficult time,” Woods wrote.

Documents show that Woods told deputies he did not know how the crash occurred and did not remember driving. At the time of the wreck, Woods was recovering from a fifth back surgery, which took place two months earlier.

Woods, who is originally from the Los Angeles area, had been back home to host his PGA tournament, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, when the crash happened.

He was driving an SUV loaned to him by the tournament when he struck a raised median in Rolling Hills Estates, just outside Los Angeles. The SUV crossed through two oncoming lanes and uprooted a tree, striking it at 75 mph (120 kph).

Jonathan Cherney, an accident reconstruction expert and retired Irvine, California, police detective, said the sheriff did not explain a fundamental part of the case: Why was Woods driving so fast?

“To just blanket it with an unsafe speed violation is the easy way out,” said Cherney, who walked the crash site. “We still are missing the key factors that kind of explain why or how this whole sequence of events began.”

Cherney questioned whether Woods may have fallen unconscious at some point, citing the lack of evidence of braking, steering or anything else to suggest the driver was “aware of what’s going on or attempting to avoid the crash.” He also said investigators had enough probable cause to seek blood samples.

Woods is in Florida recovering from multiple surgeries, including procedures to repair two broken bones in his lower right leg with a rod in his shinbone. He also has screws and pins in his foot and ankle.

The 45-year-old athlete has never gone an entire year without playing, dating back to his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old in high school. He had hoped to play this year in the Masters tournament, which begins Thursday.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major golf champion who lives near Woods in Florida, said he visited Woods last month and found him to be “in decent spirits.”

“When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that,” McIlroy said Tuesday from the Masters.

In the days after the crash, the sheriff called it “purely an accident” and said there was no evidence of impairment. Villanueva faced criticism for labeling the crash an accident before the investigation had concluded and pushed back Wednesday against allegations of special treatment for the golf star.

“That is absolutely false,” he said.

Last week, Villanueva said investigators had determined the cause of the crash but would not reveal it. He claimed he needed permission from Woods to do so. The sheriff said Wednesday that Woods — who has a yacht named Privacy — had approved the release of the investigation’s findings.

Villanueva also declined to release footage from deputies’ body cameras, citing the athlete’s privacy.

This is the third time Woods has been involved in a vehicle investigation.

The most notorious example dates back to 2009, when his SUV ran over a fire hydrant and hit a tree early on the morning after Thanksgiving. While Woods was cited for careless driving and fined $164, the crash was the start of revelations that he had been cheating on his wife with multiple women.

Woods also lost major corporate sponsorships in the backlash and went to a rehabilitation clinic. He did not return to golf for five months.

In 2017, Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of a car parked awkwardly on the side of the road. He was arrested on a DUI charge and said later he had an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine for his back pain.

Woods pleaded guilty to reckless driving and checked into a clinic to get help with prescription medication and a sleep disorder.

Wisconsin hopes to hire new AD ‘within a few months’

MADISON, Wis. | The head of the search committee to pick a successor to retiring Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the school hopes to make a hire “within a few months.”

Peter Miller, the chair of Wisconsin’s athletic board, wouldn’t get more specific than that. Alvarez announced his retirement Tuesday and said it would take effect at the beginning of July.

“We don’t take the many successes we’ve had over the last several decades for granted,” Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank said Wednesday. “That can be lost quite quickly with the wrong leader. This is a important hire for our university as well as for the state.”

Blank announced the members of a nine-person search committee Wednesday as the school began the process of finding a replacement for Alvarez, who has been Wisconsin’s athletic director since 2004. Alvarez also was Wisconsin’s football coach from 1990-2005.

Miller, the chair of the committee, already chairs Wisconsin’s athletic board and works as a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis.

The rest of the search committee includes football coach Paul Chryst, softball coach Yvette Healy, East Lake Management & Development Corp. CEO Elzie Higginbottom, T&M Partners CEO Ted Kellner, athletic board member Jeff Mack, former athletic board chair Laurel Rice, assistant men’s basketball coach Alando Tucker as well as lightweight rowing student-athlete and athletic board member Eden Rane. Chryst, Higginbottom, Kellner, Mack and Tucker are Wisconsin alums.

Alvarez isn’t part of the search committee.

“He has indicated his willingness to provide advice and commentary whenever we need it, but also has made it quite clear that he will provide that when we ask for it,” Blank said.

Blank said a Wisconsin background would be helpful but not essential for a candidate.

Wisconsin teams won 16 national titles while Alvarez was athletic director. Five of those came in women’s lightweight rowing, a sport whose championships aren’t sanctioned by the NCAA.

The Badgers also have won a total of 74 conference, regular-season or tournament championships with Alvarez as athletic director.

“It’s hard to imagine Badger sports without Barry Alvarez,” Blank said. “While we are launching a national search today, I think all of us are aware of the importance of this search to the Wisconsin athletics program. We really want to preserve and maintain what we have here.”

Nike suspends sponsorship of Deshaun Watson amid allegations

Nike has suspended its endorsement contract with Deshaun Watson amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment against the Houston Texans quarterback.

“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson,” Nike said in a statement released Wednesday. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Watson has been accused of sexual assault or harassment in lawsuits filed by 22 women. One of those women, Ashley Solis, said Tuesday during a news conference that she was assaulted and traumatized when she tried to give Watson a massage in March 2020.

The Associated Press usually does not name victims of sexual assault, but Solis has chosen to publicly identify herself.

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, has called the allegations “meritless” and questioned the claims against Watson, alleging they were made following a failed attempt to blackmail his client.

The Houston Police Department said last week it was investigating Watson after someone had filed a report with the agency about Watson. Tony Buzbee, who represents the 22 women, said it was not Solis but another of his clients who filed the first report with police.

The NFL has been in contact with Buzbee during its own investigation.

Watson was signed to a deal with Nike in 2017 when he entered the NFL. Last November, he teamed with the company to provide jerseys for Yates High School in Houston. George Floyd graduated from Yates in 1993 and played football for the school.

Watson’s red Nike cleats that he wore in Houston’s 53-32 win over the Atlanta Falcons during Week 5 in 2019 were sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Watson was the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and five TDs with five or fewer incompletions in a single game.

Solis said in her statement that since the alleged assault, she suffers from panic attacks, anxiety, depression and is no longer comfortable working as a massage therapist.

“I got into massage therapy to heal people, to heal their minds and bodies, to bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that,” Solis said, adding that her lawsuit was not about seeking money.

But in a statement, Hardin alleged that Buzbee sought “$100,000 in hush money” on behalf of Solis before she filed her lawsuit.

In a recent email to season ticket holders, Texans chairman Cal McNair, whose family owns the team, said they were aware of the lawsuits against Watson and that the team takes “these allegations very seriously.”

“While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault. Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior,” McNair said.

Watson is one of the league’s top quarterbacks and led the NFL in yards passing last season. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason, but he became unhappy with the direction of the team as Houston sunk to 4-12. Watson requested a trade in January.

—From AP reports

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