Rice’s termination leaves lingering questions
Jason Baum, associate athletic director, confirmed yesterday that University President Robert L. Barchi saw the revealing half-hour video for the first time Monday, which led to yesterday’s firing of head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice.
The video, which first surfaced Monday through the University’s athletic department, features Rice using verbally abusive language, threatening behavior and conduct that led to Rice’s dismissal.
“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said in an email to members of the University community. “I have now reached the conclusion that coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability.”
But in an interview with WFAN Sports Radio host Mike Francesa Jr. Tuesday, who asked Athletic Director Tim Pernetti if Barchi watched the video when it originally came to Pernetti’s attention last fall, Pernetti said, “Yes.”
“Our president and I, from the beginning of this whole thing, were in constant communication and worked our way through it all the way, until we handed out the suspension,” Pernetti said.
Barchi said after Pernetti came to him about Rice’s abusive practices, the University hired an independent investigator, John Lacey of Connell Foley LLP, to look into the matter. The investigation began Nov. 27 and lasted two weeks, leading to Rice’s subsequent three-game suspension and fine two days later.
“Based on the external investigator’s findings and recommendations, Tim and I agreed that coach Rice should be suspended, penalized $75,000 in fines and lost salary, ordered to undergo anger management counseling and put on notice that his behavior would be closely monitored,” Barchi said in the email statement.
Baum confirmed that Pernetti, who was not available for comment yesterday, met with Rice at about 9 a.m. yesterday in Pernetti’s office at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Rice later appeared in an interview with NBC outside of his Little Silver, N.J., home, in which the embattled third-year coach made his first public comments following his firing.
“It’s troubling. Maybe in some time, I’ll try to explain it,” Rice told NBC. “But right now, there’s no explanation for what’s on those films because there’s no excuse for it.”
Pernetti said Rice’s use of a homophobic slur on the DVD, compiled from practices over a two-year period by former Director of Player Development Eric Murdock’s attorney, served as the core of Rice’s Dec. 13 three-game suspension.
Associate head coach David Cox and Rice worked with Murdock since 2010, when Rice hired Murdock as part of his first staff in Piscataway. According to the Home News Tribune, Murdock’s contract featured a one-year renewable clause each summer.
Pernetti said Monday that the department decided not to renew Murdock’s contract last summer, while Murdock’s attorney, Raj Gadhok, released a statement on ESPN’s Outside The Lines that Murdock was fired unlawfully.
Pernetti said a legal dispute with Murdock is ongoing.
In the immediate aftermath, Cox will serve as interim head coach.
Cox is not implicated in any wrongdoing from the practice footage, and members of the team have lauded Cox as a player’s coach. Cox left the RAC around 11:42 a.m. yesterday before meeting with the rest of the team’s coaching staff.
Besides Rice, the University’s coaching staff remains in place, Baum said.
This includes assistant Jimmy Martelli, who during one portion of the video is involved in a shoving altercation with an unidentified player. Pernetti said Monday that Martelli had been reprimanded.
It remains unlikely that Pernetti, should he ultimately be in a position to do so, will remove the interim tag from Cox. The third-year assistant filled in as head coach during Rice’s three-game suspension in December, but he would likely have to field questions about his role and knowledge of Rice’s on-court behavior.
Cox said Dec. 13 he did not view Rice’s actions as inappropriate.
“I have been around coaches that are as passionate and as intense as coach Rice,” Cox said. “I was a huge Georgetown [University] fan, so I watched big John Thompson, who was a very passionate individual. I watched a lot of Temple [University] with John Chaney, who was a very passionate individual and the [former Indiana University head coach] Bobby Knights of the world. Times have changed. We as coaches and adults probably have to come a little bit further to meet some of these young men that we’re working with in today’s day and age.”
The fallout from Rice’s firing remains to be seen.
Sophomore point guard Jerome Seagears transferred from the program yesterday, the first sign that publicity surrounding the released video affected players’ decisions. Two other players, sophomore Malick Kone and junior Vincent Garrett, transferred earlier in the week.
The University welcomes a three-player recruiting class to Piscataway in the fall, headlined by three-star recruit Shane Rector, according to Rivals.com. Whoever the administration hires to replace Rice will figure heavily into the University’s 2012-2013 makeup.
The national coverage prompted statements from Gov. Chris Christie and Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-NJ.
“Above all, today’s actions beg the question: What took so long? If there was evidence of this abuse in November, it is absolutely shocking that it took until April for this incident to come to light and for the head coach to be terminated,” Cunningham said in a press release.
Christie released a statement regarding Rice’s removal from the University. He said though the situation is a regrettable episode for the University, he supported the decision to remove Rice.
“As we move on from this incident, I am very optimistic that Rutgers will select a new head coach who not only puts a winning team on the court, but will make everyone proud of the example he sets every day for the young men in his charge,” he said.