PISCATAWAY, N.J. – After the video went viral, Mike Rice’s coaching days at Rutgers were over.
Now the question is whether anyone else will lose his job – including the athletic director who in December suspended and fined Rice for the abusive behavior, and the university president who signed off on it.
Rice was fired Wednesday, one day after a video surfaced of him hitting, shoving and berating his players with anti-gay slurs. The taunts were especially troubling behavior at Rutgers, where freshman student Tyler Clementi killed himself in 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man in his dorm.
It also came at an especially embarrassing time for the NCAA, with the country focused on the Final Four this weekend.
Rice, in his third season with the Scarlet Knights, apologized outside his home in Little Silver, N.J.
“I’ve let so many people down: my players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans, my family, who’s sitting in their house just huddled around because of the fact their father was an embarrassment to them,” he said. “I want to tell everybody who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I’ve caused.”
Athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the tape by a former employee in November and, after an independent investigator was hired to review it, Rice was suspended for three games, fined $75,000 and ordered to attend anger management classes. University President Robert Barchi agreed to the penalty.
But on Wednesday, Rutgers referred to new information and “a review of previously discovered issues” as the reasons for the termination of the 44-year-old coach.
“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said in a statement. “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. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University.”
Later Wednesday, 13 faculty members posted a letter on the internet to the school’s trustees and Board of Governors demanding the resignation of Barchi. It says his handling of the “homophobic and misogynist abuse” was inexcusable.
The video shows numerous clips of Rice at practice during his three years at the school firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. It also shows him grabbing players by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice can also be heard yelling obscenities and using gay slurs.
Several college coaches said they had never seen anything like the Rutgers video and it broke a cardinal rule: Never put your hands on a player.
“Don’t tell me that’s the old way. That’s the wrong way,” said John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Famer who led Georgetown to the 1984 national title. Thompson, the father of current Hoyas coach John Thompson III, called the images “child abuse.”
UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma, winner of seven national titles, said “there is no line that could be drawn that would make that behavior acceptable.”
The most famous case of a coach accused of abusing a player is the one involving Bob Knight of Indiana. The university put him on a zero-tolerance policy in 2000 after an investigation into a former player’s allegations that the coach had choked him during a practice. When a student alleged that Knight grabbed him later that year, Knight was fired. Knight, who now works for ESPN, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Rice video drew outrage on campus and all the way to the capital in Trenton, with lawmakers and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supporting the firing at the state’s flagship public university.
State lawmakers want explanations from both Pernetti and Barchi on the initial decision not to fire Rice.
Pernetti took responsibility for trying to rehabilitate Rice instead of firing him.
Rice wasn’t able to push Rutgers into the upper echelon of the Big East Conference, and went 44-51. Rice was 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 league.
The videotape was given to Pernetti by Eric Murdock, former director of player development, who was hired by Rice in 2010. The two had a falling out over Murdock’s appearances at a camp, and Pernetti said Murdock’s contract was not renewed for last season. Murdock said he was fired.