A video aired by ESPN is causing a lot of problems for former Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice Jr., who was fired Wednesday.
The video shows Rice, among other things, shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players during practice, and uttering gay slurs.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in late November by a former employee. After hiring independent investigators to analyze the tape, he suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.
University president Robert Barchi saw the tape and signed off on the initial punishment.
But in a Wednesday email, 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 conference, and went just 44-51 at Rutgers. Rice posted just a 16-38 mark in the Big East, after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the league.
“I was wrong and I want to tell everybody who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the hardship I’ve caused them,” Rice said during a press conference Wednesday.
Rice once played basketball at Boardman High School and is the son of former Youngstown State University head basketball coach Mike Rice Sr. Former WKBN sports director Jim Campbell covered the Rices in the 1980’s and said the competitive apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“Mike Jr. inherited his dad’s intensity, his dad’s competitiveness. I don’t recall any particular incident that he exhibited it in a way that would have been inappropriate, but he was definitely very intense,” Campbell said.
Former Boardman head football coach DJ Ogilvie played basketball with Rice in high school.
“As a person who wanted to win real bad, he was good to have on your team because he wanted to win,” Ogilvie said in a phone interview after news of Rice’s firing broke.
Ogilvie disagrees with what he has seen, but said he can understand how things escalated.
“Yeah, I think Mike took it overboard, but as a competitive person, I can see how that happened. You know, there is Bobby Knight, Frank Martin, a lot of coaches that coach that way,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.