Rutgers fires basketball coach after video shows him berating players
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -
Rutgers has fired basketball coach Mike Rice after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs during practice.
The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, has prompted scores of outraged social media comments as well as sharp criticism from Gov. Chris Christie and Miami Heat star LeBron James. The head of the New Jersey Assembly called for Rice to be fired.
With mounting criticism on a state and national level, the school decided to take action on Wednesday, relieving Rice of his duties after three largely unsuccessful seasons at the Big East school. There will be a national search to replace him.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in November. After hiring independent investigators to analyze the tape, he suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000.
In an interview with WFAN Radio in New York on Tuesday, Pernetti said university president Robert Barchi also viewed the tape last fall and agreed with the punishment.
Phone messages left for Rice by the AP were not immediately returned.
But ESPN's broadcast prompted an outcry.
“Governor Christie saw the video today for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said. “It's not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University.”
James weighed in with a tweet: “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I'm still gone whoop on him afterwards! C'mon.”
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 screaming obscenities and gay slurs at players.
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.”
Rice, who was hired by Pernetti three years ago, was 44-51 at Rutgers, including 16-38 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 Big East.
“You have to be always cautious about public reaction, because the reaction the public is having is the same I had when I saw it (the film),” Pernetti told the radio station. “I am factoring everything into what we do going forward. The most important thing I am factoring in is trying to make sure that we don't do harm to Rutgers University, because we are a small slice of the pie here at this great place. I don't want to put any negatively on the university when we have a lot of real good things going on.”
Pernetti said he understands why many were asking why Rice wasn't fired after the initial investigation.
“I spent more time with that option on whether we should fire Mike or not than any other option,” he said. “At the same the results of the investigation where we ended up, the determination was made to suspend him. My biggest concern as the AD is that I am always trying to protect the interests and reputation of the university and that's what makes this one so difficult. There is a lot of hindsight … that there will be no other option than to terminate Mike. I made that decision. I am accountable for it. I have to live with it.”
Rice was Pernetti's first major hire after getting the AD's job.
Column: A trip down the Apalachicola shows a natural river fighting for its life in a war over water