Goodbye and Good Riddance to Rutgers Coach Mike RicePosted by mlemaire on April 3rd, 2013
In a move that everyone seems to agree probably should have happened back in December, Rutgers finally fired basketball coach Mike Rice for everything from demeaning his players with gay slurs to winging basketballs at their heads. The school’s announcement bases the decision on recently revealed information, which is really just PR-speak for “that damning video we have already seen that has finally been broadcast to a national audience,” and after watching the video multiple times, it is hard to believe that the Rutgers athletic department had previously let Rice off with a short suspension and fine in December.
When the suspension was announced in December and athletic director Tim Pernetti explained that it was because of a pattern of abusive behavior from Rice, it shouldn’t have surprised many who have observed him patrolling the sidelines. The Pittsburgh native and former Robert Morris head coach quickly developed a reputation based on his fiery coaching style and general hotheadedness but those traits were usually cleverly disguised as “energy,” “passion,” and “competitiveness.” Just look at what some of the sport’s most recognizable names had to say about Rice after Rutgers hired him away from Robert Morris (Bill Raftery’s remarks about Rice understanding “what the kids need after the game and during the week” are especially unfortunate in light of recent events). There were definitely some raised eyebrows when the stories of Rice’s abusive behavior and basketball-throwing tendencies started to leak, but it wasn’t until people actually saw the video that the outrage became a dull roar.
Most fans of college basketball and people who have played basketball before understand that fiery coaches who like to yell and curse are a part of the game. This type of demeanor can serve to motivate players, wake a team up when they aren’t playing with passion, and act as teaching tools for players who refuse to listen. But there is a fine line between yelling at your players and physically and verbally abusing them, and Rice wasn’t just tip-toeing along that line, he crashed right through it at full speed. Attacking players with ad hominem insults and remarks? Throwing basketballs at player’s heads from point-blank range? Shoving players hard in the chest during practice? These aren’t the techniques of a coach trying to help his team get better, these are the techniques of a sociopath with serious anger issues. I guess Rice and Pernetti might have a leg to stand on if the coach had come in and immediately turned the Scarlet Knights into a consistent winner, but Rutgers was awful for all three seasons that Rice was at the helm, and no amount of previous success at Robert Morris can justify the type of behavior that even had LeBron James saying that he wouldn’t have taken Rice’s form of coaching lying down.
There is no doubt about it. Rice deserved to be fired. But aside from him, the man with the most egg on his face is Pernetti, who is responsible for hiring Rice and likely has his own head on the chopping block after incredibly deciding not to terminate the head coach in December despite watching the same video that ESPN broadcast around the country Tuesday. Rice was Pernetti’s first big hire as athletic director, which probably explains how he avoided the unemployment line then; but how Pernetti could have watched that video four months ago and not immediately come to the conclusion that his basketball program was better off without Rice in charge is truly astonishing. It now seems unlikely that Pernetti will also lose his job over this mistake, but there are certainly enough people across the country who would like to see that happen and the man shouldn’t be able to hide behind a prepared statement until this blows over. He should be forced to answer questions about his decision-making process after viewing the video in December and explain why he chose only to slap his head basketball coach on the wrist despite admitting that Rice’s behavior was a pattern and not just some isolated incident.
For Rutgers basketball fans, this is just the latest in a long line of embarrassing public relations incidents involving their head coach and they are likely saying good riddance to news of Rice’s departure this morning. What the program needs now isn’t a hot name from the coaching ranks, it needs a high-character guy who is going to run the program well without creating any off-court disturbances. In fact, it’s a real shame Tubby Smith has already been hired by Texas Tech because his clean reputation and calm demeanor are exactly what Rutgers should be looking for in its next head coach. Pernetti is in a unique situation to right the wrongs by making a smart hire, so let’s hope he chooses a guy whose winning formula doesn’t include hurling basketballs at players’ heads.