Rutgers Fires Men’s Basketball Coach Due to Abusing Players

Rutgers Fires Men’s Basketball Coach Due to Abusing Players

What a difference 24 Hours can make. Rutgers University head basketball coach Mike Rice has been fired, after a whirlwind of support for his dismissal arose since an ESPN report surfaced earlier this week.

The ESPN program Outside the Lines (OTL) ran several secretive videos of Coach Rice, verbally and sometimes physically assaulting his players during practices. OTL interviews with several coaches and analysts conveyed outrage at the lack of institutional punishment and the conduct of Rice.

Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti came on the program to defend his position that Rice’s punishment; a three-game suspension, a $75,000 fine and anger management classes, were sufficient. Those within and beyond the sports realm disagreed.

Lebron James tweeted “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still gon whoop on him afterwards! C’mon”. Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie weighed in via spokesperson, stating he was “deeply disturbed” by the videos.

The whistleblower was Eric Murdock. Murdock, a 1991 NBA first round selection to the Utah Jazz, spent 9 seasons in the pros. After retiring, he later found himself as the Director of Player Development for the Scarlet Knights in 2010. He served in that role until 2012, but his contract wasn’t renewed.

Murdock claims he approached AD Tim Pernetti about Rice several times during his short stay, but when his contract was up for renewal in June of 2012, he was let go due to “insubordination”. The school disagreed, arguing his dismissal was for insubordination in an unrelated matter. Murdock is now suing the University for wrongful termination.

Murdock, a Jersey native is no stranger to tough coaching; he played for Rick Barnes in college and Jerry Sloan in the pros, amongst others. What Murdock witnessed at Rutgers surprised him though. Later, taped practices provided by independent investigators, throughout last summer, revealed shocking tapes.

Slurs and epithets and a physical presence are abundant in the videos; in one clip Rice belittles a player screaming “You f**king fairy … you’re a f**king fa**ot.” In another he kicks a player in the behind. Multiple times Rice launched balls towards his players, and more often than not the video excerpts contained Rice physically putting his hands on, or shoving athletes.

In an interview with ESPN Murdock stated it’s, “Unbelievable to me that someone would feel that technique can be successful.” Unbelievable indeed.

When confronted outside his home Wednesday morning, Rice took full responsibility (as he should) and apologized, “I’ve let so many people down. My players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans.”

While he’s taken blame, Rice has yet to give an explanation for his actions, instead admitting that he will explain his actions in the future. Rutgers AD Pernetti’s job is reportedly safe, considering he was recent nomination for Athletic Director of the Year (2013).

Pernetti will lead a nation-wide search for a new men’s basketball coach. Rice compiled a 44-51 record in three seasons as Rutgers’ head coach, and finished just 16-38 in conference play since the 2010-11 season.

James Weber’s Take – Metta Chronicles College Hoops Expert

Mike Rice was fired, and that is exactly as it should be, but I wonder how much further up the ladder the firings could go. I just learned that assistant coach Jimmy Martelli resigned. Martelli was nicknamed “Baby Rice” and is seen on tapes yelling similar homophobic slurs and shoving players. Another domino has fallen.

I am of the hard lined opinion that AD Tim Pernetti should be fired. His defense of Rice on Outside the Lines was shameful and unfortunately disgustingly laughable. Pernetti took a half hour bombardment from ESPN analysts and defended Mike Rice tooth and nail. 24 hours later he recanted everything he’d said the previous day and fired Rice. His about face was brought on by insurmountable pressure on the university to take action. The boldness Pernetti reflected by originally denying the obvious moral gut check one recieves upon seeing those tapes, is sickening in itself. Further, to intimate that AFTER the tapes came out, his original discipline was not severe enough, calls into question Pernetti’s personal credibility as a judge of any athletic oversight.

Rutgers needs to fire Tim Pernetti, but will they? I fear a much darker issue could be in play. Pernetti was the driving force behind the Rutgers football program moving to the Big 10 next year. The revenue increase for Rutgers University gained Pernetti praise last summer as an AD who could accomplish big things for the University. Those praises should have stopped in December, the second Pernetti let Mike Rice or Jimmy Martelli for that matter remain employees at Rutgers. It stains the university’s credibility every minute Pernetti keeps his job, but if football money talks he might just escape.

University President Robert Barchi should be fired as well. Faculty and concerned members of the Scarlet Knight community have sent petition letters to the Rutgers Board of Trustees demanding Barchi and Pernetti both be canned. It’s the President’s job to keep abreast of any and all activities on campus. His failure to oversee Pernetti, who in turn failed to discipline Rice in the appropriate fashion should cost him his job. I understand that Athletic Programs often run almost independent of their institutions, so Barchi might not share as much fault as Pernetti, but he certainly should have been more proactive.

Finally, where is the NCAA; and should they intervene? What will be their role in all of this? So far, they seem to have taken a hands off approach. I don’t necessarily know if the NCAA needs to make a disciplinary stand against Rutgers but I think some hypocrisy in NCAA practices has been exposed during this process. ESPN analyst J.A. Adande brought up a valid point. “If Coach Rice had bought one of these players a sandwich, or given them a gift, The NCAA would have been all over Rutgers”.

I’m not implying that the NCAA should have known about this; or even that they need to impose sanctions on the University, but the lack of a statement makes them look weak to handle situations that put their organization in a crossfire. I don’t expect the NCAA to do much, and frankly there probably isn’t much they could do.

It’s a tough situation that has been mishandled on multiple levels and has brought shame on what otherwise appeared to be a fine institution. At the center of it all, Mike Rice has been embarrassed, but not so much so that he’ll have to give up his $100,000 bonus for completing the season. Another disgusting aspect of this ordeal. If Rice had some shred of dignity he’d either forfeit the money, or donate it to victims of abuse. Rice and baby Rice are gone, what happens to Pernetti, Barchi and Rutgers University going forward remains to be seen.


Bacardi’s Take

As a former student athlete, this behavior by a coach towards his players sickens me. I’ve had tough coaches in the past, but nothing compares to the abuse that Rice doled out while at Rutgers (and probably at his previous stop at Robert Morris). Though he may not be able to find work soon, Rice needs counseling and shouldn’t be allowed near young men in the near future.

I think the most inexcusable aspect of this scenario is the failure of AD Pernetti to properly act when first alerted of the situation. After Murdoch showed him footage and after the suspension, these verbal and physical attacks continued on his students. Even if it took Pernetti to physically attend every Rutgers’ basketball practice, proper measures should have been conducted to ensure the safety of student athletes.

I’m interested to see what Rice’s former players will say of his practice mentality; only a few have given their opinions and they’ve been very mixed to say the least. I wonder what would have happened had Rutgers been a successful program, and not a sub .500 team? Would Rice still be employed? Though other coaches in the past (Bobby Knight specifically comes to mind), but in this modern age of sports, Rice’s actions are intolerable. I’m happy for the university that proper actions were (finally) taken. Hopefully the administration will find a great replacement coach, someone who these student athletes deserve.


Pirozzi’s Take

Many analysts have brought this up, but imagine if a professor at the university did anything close to what Rice did. They’d be fired immediately, regardless of tenure, and would NEVER get a teaching job again. Most importantly, it would not have taken this long for the story to surface.

To be honest, I guarantee if Rice had a better winning record at Rutgers, we might have never even heard about all this. These kids, just like Bacardi was, are student athletes. The coach is the most important teacher and role model they have, and Mike Rice was an embarrassment to that responsibility.

The bigger issue in college sports is that because of how much gets brought in from ‘amateur’ athletes, the watchers (ex. the athletic directors) often turn a blind eye. I bring this up because it goes hand in hand with the emphasis on winning – in my opinion, there are probably other coaches who have acted in a similar manner but either didn’t get caught or they just won enough. Keep in mind, Rutgers had to fire Rice because of the video and OTL report, not because of his actions. Rice kept apologizing to the media yesterday, and sure, he might have been ‘sorry’, but it was because he got caught. Not because he all of a sudden changed his philosophy on how to coach his kids. If the tape had disappeared, or if it had been erased after AD Pernetti saw it, Rice would still be the coach today.

I still think the entire issue was overblown. Not the firing, but many of our reactions. I think much of society is over-sensitive, especially [right now] to homophobic slurs. I know I’m treading choppy waters here, but I do feel our emotional reactions to certain issues are way too exaggerated. Our reactions empower such words. The focus should be that he did not act in the proper way, not a few words he yelled. The only thing I REALLY disagreed with was him kicking his player(s), actual physical violence. Just my opinion.

With all that said, I’m glad Rutgers U handled it as soon as the story hit the front page. Of course, looking back, we would have wanted them to deal with it months ago, but they did a good enough job yesterday to get past this public relations nightmare.

P.S. When I first heard about all this, it reminded me of Air Bud. Remember the scene where the first coach (I think Coach Barker) was throwing balls hard at one of his players (Tom?), the kid who could never catch the ball consistently in games. That coach, too, was fired.