Cox defends Rice’s good side from his RU career
One side of Mike Rice remains invisible to the public.
“We’re not talking about a monster,” said Rutgers associate head men’s basketball coach David Cox on Oct. 22 at the Scarlet Knights’ media day. “We’re talking about a human being who made some mistakes, and once those changes are made, I think he will be able to move on in a positive direction.”
Rice elevated Cox’s coaching reputation in his three years under Rice, he said. But Rice’s firing left Cox with no idea of his future.
Cox, like all men’s college basketball coaches, went to the Final Four in Atlanta to network. Former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti appointed Cox interim head coach three days earlier, but Cox was unsure where to go from there.
Head coach Eddie Jordan maintained Cox and assistant coach Van Macon — both important pillars of Rice’s coaching staff.
Cox and Rice still speak, mostly through email and texting. Despite the team’s and athletic department’s fallout, Rice left Cox with a more positive impression.
“That’s a man who I wish all the best,” Cox said. “He was a gentleman who took a chance on me and hired me here. I learned a lot from him over the years. I know that he is a great man who made some mistakes, but an outstanding man and father and I wish him all the best.”
Rice has since gone public for the first time since April with interviews with ABC’s “20/20” and The New York Times Magazine. He told “20/20” he has apologized to all his former players, but he denied to The New York Times Magazine that he committed abuse.
Cox and Rice converse little about Rice’s issues, but he notices progress.
“That’s something that I wouldn’t expect him to share with me,” Cox said of Rice’s improvement. “I do know from reading in the paper about things that he’s done. That’s evident that he’s making an effort to change and to address some things.”
Cox made it his job to comfort the remaining roster. Then-sophomore guard Jerome Seagears, then-sophomore wing Malick Kone and then-junior wing Vincent Garrett decided to transfer before Rice was fired.
No player was guaranteed to stay.
“Our major concern at that time was for their overall well-being,” Cox said. “Obviously we wanted them to stay and help build this program, but through all of that our initial concern was just for their well-being, which is why three or four of those guys ended up leaving.”
Cox said he never actively pursued other coaching jobs, but he was no guarantee to remain at the school as well. Whoever Rutgers hired as head coach could have scrapped Rutgers’ coaching staff.
But once Rutgers brought in Jordan later that April, his first major decision was retaining Cox and Macon.
Jordan even gives Cox a little more responsibility, which is easier since both have Princeton offensive backgrounds.
“It’s more of a hybrid because the pace of it’s a lot faster — the NBA was a 24-second clock, it needs to be that — but I’m familiar with that system from my days [playing] at Georgetown,” Cox said of Jordan’s offense.
Jordan instantly changed the team’s atmosphere. In the five days between his unofficial hiring and the Board of Governors’ approval, he talked to Rutgers’ remaining roster.
In that time, Kone decided to come back and showed up to Jordan’s introductory press conference.
“He was the reason I came back, I think the main reason,” Kone said. “But I love this school too. It’s not only basketball. I have a life here beyond basketball. I like the people here. I made a lot of friends. So to see myself going to another school — that’s a new beginning.”
Then Seagears decided to return in July, and Rutgers now holds a roster large enough not to necessitate regularly tiring out players.
Jordan said Rutgers’ past atmosphere is gone.
“They want to come out of this doldrums — this shadow of the past — and they’ve come together and I’m happy about that, and they’re a little bit ahead of schedule in that regard,” Jordan said.
But five Rice recruits remain on the roster and so is one transfer under Rice — senior forward Wally Judge.
No one asked them to pick sides between Jordan and Rice as Cox sees his less visible side.
Once Rice remedies his issues, Cox would not be shocked if he graced a court again.
“Just being around him for the time that I was around him, it’s in him,” Cox said. “It’s in his bones. He’s the son of a coach. He coached his sons and daughters in basketball while still here. I know that it runs through him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to make a comeback.”