POCATELLO — Idaho State University has confirmed that it is investigating allegations made by a football player against the Bengals' coaching staff including that he was assaulted by one of his coaches.
On Nov. 14, 2018, ISU safety Jayson Miller filed a formal complaint with the university against head coach Rob Phenicie for allegedly twice hammer punching Miller's shoulder and assistant coach Jay Staggs for allegedly sending Miller and other players inappropriate text messages.
ISU issued a lengthy press release about Miller's complaint on Tuesday that outlined his allegations in detail though the release did not identify him, Staggs or Phenicie. Miller has confirmed to the Journal that he is the player who filed the complaint against the two coaches.
Staggs was removed from his position by ISU as a result of the school's investigation into Miller's complaint. Staggs had subsequently been hired as an assistant football coach at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. However, Carroll College issued a press release late Tuesday night saying Staggs was no longer employed by the school in light of ISU's investigation into Miller's allegations.
No action has been taken against Phenicie while the investigation is ongoing, ISU officials said.
When asked why Phenicie has not been placed on administrative leave while ISU is investigating the alleged punching incident, ISU spokesman Stuart Summers issued the following statement: "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."
Miller alleges that Phenicie hammer punched him on his shoulder pads during halftime of ISU's game Nov. 10, 2018, at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. When Miller then asked Phenicie not to have any more physical contact with him, Phenicie hammer punched him again, Miller alleges.
Miller said he was hammer punched hard enough that his shoulder had visible bruises.
Miller said that when he talked to Phenicie about the halftime incident the following week, Phenicie discussed options for Miller to transfer to another university.
Miller reported the alleged punching incident to the Cal Poly University Police Department, which confirmed it has launched an investigation. Miller said he is pursuing criminal charges against Phenicie for the incident.
Phenicie could not be reached for comment about the allegations against him and calls to Carroll College regarding Staggs went unreturned.
“Idaho State University takes all allegations of physical assault extremely seriously,” ISU President Kevin Satterlee said in Tuesday's news release about Miller's complaint. “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.”
ISU is still investigating the punching incident, but the university has already removed Staggs for his alleged text messages sent this past fall to Miller and other players that had inappropriate "race and gender-based themes," according to the university.
ISU said via its Tuesday news release that it investigated that incident and as a result the assistant coach was immediately "relieved of his duties" and his contract was not renewed.
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.”
ISU also stated that the school's athletic department inexplicably and incorrectly told Miller that he was not eligible to play next season. Miller missed all but one game of the 2017 season with a knee injury and thought he had been approved for another season of eligibility via a medical hardship waiver, which would have meant he was a redshirt junior during the 2018 season. But the paperwork necessary to grant Miller another year of eligibility was never filed by ISU's athletic department, therefore making Miller a senior for the 2018 season.
ISU said it is now working to correct that mistake so Miller is eligible to play college football next season. The final decision on Miller's pending eligibility will be made by the Big Sky Conference.
However, Miller said that if he is granted another season of eligibility, he will not return to the ISU football team if Phenicie is still the head coach.