Rutgers fires coach Mike Rice
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice.
The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," prompted sharp criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and the head of the New Jersey Assembly called for Rice to be fired.
With mounting criticism on a state and national level, the school relieved Rice of his duties after three largely unsuccessful seasons at the Big East school. There will be a national search to replace him.Rice, in an impromptu news conference outside his home, apologized "for the pain and hardship that I've caused."
"There will never be a time when I use any of that as an excuse," Rice said, referring to his efforts toward a change in behavior. "I've let so many people down. My players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans. My family, who's sitting in their house just huddled around because of the fact that their father was an embarrassment to them.
"It's troubling, but I will at some time, maybe I'll try to explain it, but right now, there's no explanation for what's on those films. Because there is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who's believed in me that I'm deeply sorry."
A former employee gave Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti a copy of the video on Nov. 26, after a June meeting with Pernetti in which the former employee had initially described the behavior. Pernetti said Tuesday that he investigated the allegations twice -- once in June and then again in November. Pernetti in the fall suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.
It's unclear what sort of investigations Pernetti led; on Tuesday, he told "Outside the Lines" that the investigations were "independent" and took "hundreds of hours" and that he and investigators talked with current and former players in addition to basketball staffers. On Wednesday, Rutgers acknowledged that John Lacey of Connell Foley LLP was hired to conduct an investigation that began on Nov. 27 and lasted approximatedly two weeks.
A source close to the Rutgers University Board of Trustees told "Outside the Lines" on Wednesday afternoon that "Pernetti's job is safe" for now because of his prior work on getting Rutgers into a lucrative Big 10 deal last fall.
Still, "Outside the Lines" has talked with three former players who said they never have been asked by anyone about Rice's coaching style or practices. Eric Murdock, the former employee who spoke with Pernetti in June and November, also told "Outside the Lines" that he was not contacted beyond his November discussion with Pernetti and other university officials.
Pernetti said Tuesday university president "Robert Barchi and I worked closely together when this issue came up. We worked closely together with members of the board. He's a lot like me. We deal with everything in the wide open. We had the same concerns but we felt strongly that the actions that we took was important to take and deal with it."
But on Wednesday afternoon, Rutgers' sports information department said that Barchi had only seen the tape for the first time on Tuesday.
Murdock, an ex-NBA player and a former director of player development for the Scarlet Knights, told "Outside the Lines" that Rice's "outrageous" behavior had caused at least three players to transfer from the team, including forward Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island before last season. The Newark Star-Ledger, citing an anonymous source, reported Tuesday night that two more players had decided to leave the school at the end of the academic year, though it was unclear why.
Murdock, a 44-year-old, nine-year NBA veteran, was fired by Rice and Pernetti in early July. Murdock's attorney, Raj Gadhok, who has said Murdock intends to sue Rutgers for wrongful termination as early as Friday, expressed his approval in a statement Wednesday.
"We are certainly pleased that the university has finally chosen to take the proper corrective action at this time," Gadhok said. "Of course, Mike Rice's termination was long overdue, but late is better than never."
In a Wednesday announcement of Rice's firing, Rutgers referred to new information and "a review of previously discovered issues" as the reasons for Rice's termination.
"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice," Pernetti said. "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."
Rice, who helped Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament appearances, was one of the hot coaching candidates in the spring of 2010. He interviewed with Fordham, where he played as a guard, only to not get the chance to return to his alma mater. Eventually there was a difference in opinion in the school's search committee, and Rice's fiery, in-game behavior was a sticking point.
But Rutgers, and Pernetti, took a chance on him not long after that. The Scarlet Knights had an opening because of the unexpected dismissal of Fred Hill Jr., and Rice, who has strong New Jersey recruiting roots, seemed like a fit. But he wasn't able to push Rutgers into the upper echelon of the Big East and went just 44-51 in three seasons. Rice posted a 16-38 mark in the conference after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the Big East. Rice's compensation -- he had two years left on a five-year contract -- is still being discussed with attorneys, Rutgers said.
ESPN's broadcast of Rice's treatment of his players prompted an outcry, led by the governor himself. Christie condemned Rice's actions Tuesday after saying he saw the video for the first time.
"This was a regrettable episode for the University, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice," the governor said in a second statement released Wednesday. "It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape.
"Parents entrust their sons to the Rutgers Athletic Department and the men's basketball program at an incredibly formative period of their lives. The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable and violates the trust those parents put in Rutgers University. All of the student-athletes entrusted to our care deserve much better."
The video shows numerous clips of Rice at practice firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. Rice was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice could be heard yelling obscenities at players and using gay slurs.
"That was a very typical practice -- this occurred like every practice," Ian Diatlo, a student manager for Rutgers during the 2011-12 season, told "The Jon Marks & Sean Brace Show" on 97.5 The Fanatic Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Diatlo also said he believed Rice's apology was insincere, and that the athletic administration "was really turning a blind eye to it."
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," Oliver said. "He must go. Meanwhile, the decision not to dismiss him last year needs a complete and thorough review."
After landing the position in 2010, Rice moved his family from Pittsburgh to Little Silver, N.J. He quickly became part of the fabric of that community, often attending church functions and youth games that his children played in. But on the practice floor, some 30 miles away, a different person surfaced.
Bo Ellis hired Rice in 1998 to be one of his assistant coaches at Chicago State University after the two worked together at Marquette. Ellis didn't defend what Rice did or said, but he described Rice as a caring, knowledgeable coach and said he would hire him again as an assistant if he had the chance.
"Personally, because I know him, I would say 'Yes' (to hiring him)," said Ellis, who was the center on Marquette's 1977 NCAA championship team and is a Milwaukee Bucks scout. "I would give him another chance. Everybody needs second chances in life.
"Again, when you look at what happened, is it a little disturbing? Yeah. And did he say a few things that probably cost him? Yeah. In this day and age, with f--- and fa-, those will kill you ever year. But as far as a basketball mind, he loves kids. I would say 'yeah.' That's my opinion because of my relationship with him."
Ellis said he never had to reprimand Rice, but he did ask Rice to tone it down on occasion.
"That was the extent, just back off, slow down, little too much," Ellis said. "He understands where you're coming from. Never had to reprimand or suspend or anything like that, just slow down for getting on them a little because they weren't getting what we were saying or ... talking and not paying attention. Sometimes that's good, but only to an extent."
Rice was the fourth Rutgers coach to have off-the-court issues affect, or ultimately end, his tenure. Fred Hill, was let go in 2010 after an incident at a Rutgers baseball game, where he yelled at Pittsburgh coaches following the game and was told not to attend any more games. He subsequently went to a game. Hill's father is the baseball coach at Rutgers.
Gary Waters, who resigned after the 2006 season, missed one of the team's games that season when he left to attend a Hall of Fame ceremony at Kent State. A blizzard prevented him from returning for the team's game against Marquette. The school said his resignation was unrelated.
And Kevin Bannon was fired in 2001 after a highly publicized incident where two players and a manager ran wind sprints in the nude after a 1997 free-throw shooting content. Bannon said no one was forced to remove their clothes or run. A lawsuit over the incident was dismissed.
Information from The Associated Press, ESPNChicago.com's Roman Modrowski, ESPN.com senior writers Don Van Natta Jr. and Andy Katz, and "Outside The Lines" producer Justine Gubar was used in this report.