Thursday, April 4, 2013

Of course Mike Rice had to be fired

By Steve Kallas

Hard to believe that, in 2012-13, a university athletic director could watch the video of Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing multiple basketball players at Rutgers University in New Jersey and, somehow, come to the conclusion that Mike Rice could keep his job.  But that’s exactly what Tim Pernetti, the Rutgers AD, did this past year.

When presented with strong video evidence (pushing his players, kicking his players, throwing balls at his players and using slurs against his players) of behavior that is simply intolerable in today’s world, Pernetti decided to suspend Rice for three games without pay, fine him $50,000, have him attend anger management counseling and told him that he would be “monitored” forward-looking.

At the time of the suspension, nobody was really clear as to what Rice had done.  But now that ESPN and reporter John Barr, thanks mainly to former star college player (and nine year NBA vet) Eric Murdock, the Rutgers director of player development, showed the video (which went viral) of this abuse, it was only a matter of time before Rice was relieved of his position at Rutgers (of course, Murdock doesn’t come out of this looking too good, either, if the reports that he asked for $1 million from Rutgers to NOT release the video are true).

In fact, it took less than 24 hours for Pernetti to totally reverse his position and fire Rice.


Well, Mike Rice, who had on-the-court success at Robert Morris prior to getting the Rutgers job, was hired by Tim Pernetti.  You have to think that, if Rice were somebody else’s hire, he would have been gone last summer or certainly last December when Murdock and his representatives presented a tape of “lowlights” to Pernetti.

But the immediate firing of Rice would have called into question the ability of Pernetti to hire coaches for a state university.  And the athletic administration was able to, essentially, cover up the abuse to the public in general, a difficult thing to do in modern times.  But, as often happens, eventually the truth got out. 

And to say it was sickening is an understatement.


On ESPN’s Outside The Lines yesterday (Tuesday), Pernetti actually tried to stand and fight against very good questioning from a panel lead by Jeremy Schaap.  What Pernetti didn’t understand was he was defending an indefensible position.  To say that this was Rice’s “first offense” is comical given that it was a constant two-year disturbing pattern of verbal and physical abuse.

But as interesting was the reaction of former coach Seth Greenberg.  Greenberg, a very good former Division I basketball coach and a pretty good commentator now for ESPN, couldn’t quite bring himself to condemn Mike Rice on Tuesday.  While stating a number of times that he had only seen a “small sample” of the video, Greenberg did come out and say that you “cross the line” when you “put your hands on a player” and, of course, he’s right.

But he then went on to say that physically putting your hands on a player is “probably what resonated with the Rutger’s administration and probably that’s the direction they went with him when they saw the actual act.”

What direction?  A three-game suspension?  Clearly, Greenberg didn’t want, on Tuesday, to throw a member of the college coaching fraternity under the bus.  He even gave a half-hearted (and weak) defense of Rice: “As you watch the video, you’ve got to put into context of, you know, the rest of the practice and what else was going on.”

Really?  Could anything have happened at a practice to give what Rice had done some “context?”  Utterly preposterous.

By Wednesday, after sleeping on it overnight, Greenberg changed his tune, aggressively came out against Rice, stating that it was “impossible” for Rutgers to go forward with Rice as coach.  He was right, of course, but that was a different tune from the day before.   After his absurd “context” quotes of Tuesday, Greenberg, on Wednesday, said, “The pictures speak for themselves and no one can condone that type of behavior in terms of physically grabbing a player.  The decision had to be made.  It was just when it was going to be made.”

See the difference?

And, yes, Dylan fans, the heading to this part of the article is a quote from “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”


A good question asked by Jeremy Schaap yesterday on OTL that was never really answered.  Greenberg tried, saying it was never acceptable to put your hands on a player.  But that’s simply untrue. 

For decades, coaches did exactly that.  And, while players didn’t like it, most of them took it in the once-upon-a-time “my way or the highway” world that college athletes played in.  If you don’t believe me, go read “The Junction Boys” for the most extreme example that this writer is aware of.

But, really, such physical confrontations took place throughout most of the 20th Century in coaching.  Towards the end (1990s) that kind of coach began to fall out of favor.  Remember, when Bobby Knight choked Neil Reed in 1997, nobody thought a whole lot about it.  When the allegations were made by Reed in March 2000, Knight would have probably not even been in trouble except that the video from the eye-in-the-sky camera showed that Reed was right.  (On a total side note, many don’t know that Neil Reed passed away last July at the age of 36.  His obituary began with what you knew it would begin with – “the former Indiana basketball player whom Coach Bob Knight was caught on tape choking in 1997.”). 

And, don’t forget, Knight wasn’t even fired then.  Then-Indiana University president Myles Brand put Knight on “zero tolerance” notice and Knight was fired some six months later for allegedly grabbing a student’s arm.

It would seem that the firing of Bob Knight was the death knell for coaches who do what Mike Rice did.  The only question is, can you prove it?  In this instance, it was clearly proven.  But, remember, Rice did get away with it – until today.


Well, Tim Pernetti has some explaining to do to the University.  This is a case of incredibly poor judgment.  But, forward-looking, whether it’s Pernetti’s decision or not, the next hire is unbelievably important to Rutgers.  They have been poor in the Big East (Rice never had a plus .500 record in his three seasons there) and it was hard to recruit against the superstar coaches/ programs (Boeheim, Pitino, just to name two) in the Big East. 

Next year, Rutgers moves to the Big Ten, no picnic in terms of recruiting and/or competing.  So they need a squeaky clean coach who can recruit.  That’s a difficult combination to find.


There are now some statements from Murdock’s representatives that they will bring a wrongful termination suit against Rutgers.  But, according to Pernetti, Murdock wasn’t fired; his contract ended and it was not renewed. 

Plus, if it’s true, as is being reported today (Wednesday), that Murdock or his reps asked for $1 million to NOT release the tape, well, Murdock doesn’t exactly look like he has clean hands in this whole mess, either.


In the 21st Century, you simply can’t put your hands on a kid.  Or throw balls at a kid.  Or kick a kid.  Or use homophobic and other slurs towards a kid.  If anything, the bar is going the other way.  That is, you may see coaches in the future (if not already) fired for verbal abuse alone.

But the other side of the story is this:  Mike Rice did all of these things AND STILL KEPT HIS JOB.  Until today.

And that’s the scariest thing of all. 

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