In one of the more unsurprising personnel decisions in college basketball history, Mike Rice, the men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University, was fired on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, ESPN released a video of Rice hurling basketballs at the heads of players from close range, cursing at them, and shouting homophobic slurs in their direction. Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, paid Rice $650,000 this year. Video below:
What’s remarkable here is that Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti saw all of this footage back in November, and chose to suspend Rice for just three games, and fine him $50,000 (the Associated Press is reporting that Pernetti said Tuesday that Rutgers was reconsidering its decision to retain Rice). As ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap astutely pointed out during an interview with Pernetti on Tuesday, Eric Murdock, the former Rutgers assistant coach who supplied Pernetti — and ESPN — with the footage, did not have his contact renewed this summer because he attended a basketball camp against Rice’s wishes; Rice, meanwhile, kept his job despite hitting his players and uttering gay slurs on a campus rocked by the September 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, a gay student who was bullied by his roommate.
What’s even more remarkable is that Pernetti figured that this footage would go public, that the nation would soon see one of the most visible employees of a school that funnels $28.5 million from the university budget and fees into sports acting in such a despicable manner. Yet, Pernetti understated the severity of Rice’s actions back in December, and continued to defend Rice, and his decision to retain him, on Tuesday.
But public pressure mounted, as ESPN.com reported:
The “Outside the Lines” broadcast prompted an outcry, led by the governor himself.
“Gov. Christie saw the video today for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement. “It’s not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University.”
Christie was not the only elected official to weigh in.
Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) called Rice’s conduct “unacceptable not only at our state university, but in all circumstances. It is offensive and unbecoming of our state.
“Mike Rice should no longer be employed by Rutgers University. He must go. Meanwhile, the decision not to dismiss him last year needs a complete and thorough review.”
James weighed in with a tweet: “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still gone whoop on him afterwards! C’mon.”
“It was despicable,” Allen told ESPN.com. “Throwing the ball at them — it made me want to fight [Rice]. It made me want to fight this guy. Because that was me — wanting to learn, making mistakes.
“You’re not doing it on purpose. You’re trying to learn. And that’s what coaches should do — you teach. Yelling at kids and throwing the ball at them, there’s no place to that.”
Allen also said he would try to get Rice fired had the incidents occurred at UConn.
“I would do everything I could to make sure that coach got fired — in any sport — because there’s no place for that,” he said.
In a statement after the firing, Pernetti said: “I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”
Hopefully, some actual good can come out of this incident. Today’s college coaches use technology and advanced analytics to gain any kind of advantage: many basketball experts believe the sophistication of modern-day scouting is driving down scoring. So teams are more likely to video hundreds of hours of practice. As a result, even if a practice is “closed” to the public, coaches should assume that their practice footage could wind up on ESPN — after all, Rice’s did — and act appropriately.
Yes, plenty of coaches have continued to act boorish since footage of Bobby Knight choking a player was leaked in the late 1990s. Video, however, is much easier to disseminate now. If the Rice case scares college coaches into behaving better, that’s a win-win all around. Players don’t deserve such abuse. And in the heat of the moment, coaches can still yell and even use foul language. Nothing wrong with a little anger to motivate your players – we see coaches lose it all the time during games. But you don’t have to act like Rice, and embarrass yourself and your school, to be effective. After all, Rice’s record in his three years at Rutgers: 44-51.
On Wednesday, amid the frenzy of his firing, Rice spoke to reporters out front of his Little Silver, N.J., home. Tearful but cautious, he expressed his deep regret for his actions caught on the tape. “There is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I’ve caused,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect Mike Rice’s dismissal and apology