Mike Rice, Rutgers under fire after ESPN report on player abuse (updated)

April 3, 2013

Breaking news: Mike Rice has been fired by Rutgers

The future of Mike Rice as the Rutgers men’s basketball coach is very much in doubt today after an explosive video that showed him physically and verbally abusing players during practice triggered an emotional reaction around the country.

Later today, Rice is to meet with Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, the Newark Star-Ledger reported this morning, a sign that Rice’s tenure may be coming to a quick end. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was described by a spokesman as being “deeply disturbed” by the footage, which was shown by ESPN on Tuesday’s “Outside the Lines.” LeBron James summed up the overall reaction, particularly from parents, in a tweet:

The roughly 30 minutes of film was obtained from Eric Murdock, a former assistant whose contract was not renewed last year. Rice was suspended for three games last December, which cost him over $50,000, when the video was shown to Rutgers officials, but the public airing of it Tuesday has caused outrage over why he wasn’t fired. Rice is shown throwing basketballs at players’ heads, cursing and using homophobic slurs. ESPN says it obtained an additional hundreds of hours of tape from previous seasons.

Mike Rice is known for being an animated coach. (Mel Evans / AP)
Mike Rice is known for being an animated coach. (Mel Evans / AP)

“[It's] unbelievable to me that someone would feel that that technique could be successful,” Murdock, a former NBA player who was hired by in 2010 by Rice as his director of player development, told ESPN. “The problem is … that whenever Tim Pernetti came into the gym, Mike Rice was on his best behavior. … As soon as Tim Pernetti leaves it was every kid’s an [expletive], [expletive], [expletive], [expletive]. … To see your coach physically putting his hands on players, physically kicking players, firing balls at players from point-blank range, the verbal abuse, the belittling — I was, like, in total shock that this guy wasn’t immediately fired on the spot.”

Mike Coburn, one of Rice’s former players, defended him, telling NJ.com: “Looking back at it now, it was extreme. It wasn’t right what he was doing. But we understood it. He was trying his best. … Did he go overboard? Yes, he went overboard. But you can’t get a good feel for what went down by seeing highlights on ESPN. No one was scared of coach Rice. We didn’t fear him. We just understood him.”

Pernetti defended the punishment Rice was given in December, telling “OTL” that “I did not have a line out my door of players and coaches or anybody else complaining about the matter. It was a first offense for him. It’s a very concerning pattern of behavior. Everything that was done is not acceptable to the Rutgers standard and that’s why we suspended him for three games with the fine and, quite frankly, counseling and monitoring going forward which is not an easy situation for any head coach to operate in.”

The outrage seems destined to cost Rice his job — and Pernetti is in the crosshairs, too. This isn’t, Steve Politi writes in an NJ.com column, a difficult decision.

Mike Rice has to go. Get that out of the way first, because this is the easiest decision to fire a college coach since Ohio State football legend Woody Hayes reared back and punched a player.

If athletic director Tim Pernetti doesn’t snap out of this bizarre spin cycle and make that decision, then somebody at Rutgers – be it the university president, or a group of powerful alumni, or Gov. Chris Christie himself who weighed in late Tuesday with a damning statement – will make it for him.

Rutgers can’t have a basketball coach, a man who represents the university on national TV two dozen times a year, screaming the word “f—–” at a player. It can’t move forward with that damning, awful video for the world to see with Rice still earning a hefty paycheck.

I honestly believed Rice when he said he was ashamed of his language and behavior, and I believe he has taken some steps to change. But this is too much for anyone to overcome. Pernetti kept calling what Rice did a “first offense,” but it is 40 minutes of first offenses.

As Politi notes, Rice isn’t the first coach to come under fire for physical and verbal abuse. But being a taskmaster rather than a mentor cost Bob Knight, an ESPN analyst, his job at Indiana. By later Tuesday night, Pernetti was reconsidering the situation.

“I think now that [the videotape] is out there — we knew it was going to get out there,” he told WFAN. “The reaction — we knew what it was going to be. I need to sit here and think about what gives us the ability to be effective going forward in men’s basketball, and more importantly, what protects the university.

“There’s a lot of things on my mind right now that I’m thinking through and trying to make sure that whatever decisions I make on a going-forward basis, that we try to make the right one.”

Rice, reached by an NJ.com reporter at his home, had little comment. “I won’t be saying anything, thank you.” Asked if he was still the Rutgers coach, Rice answered, “Thank you.”

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · April 2, 2013

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