NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Tim Pernetti is out as Rutgers athletic director, two days after the basketball coach was fired following a video that went public of Mike Rice shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using anti-gay slurs.
The decision was confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday by a person familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement has not been made yet. The school is to hold a campus news conference at 1 p.m. EDT.
Pernetti dismissed basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday. The scandal has now cost Pernetti his position some five months after he didn’t fire Rice when the video first became available.
Pernetti was given the video in late November by a former employee. With the approval of university President Robert Barchi, he suspended Rice for three games, fined him $75,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes. But the video was broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, and prompted scores of sharp criticism nationwide.
Pernetti, 42, is a New Jersey native and a Rutgers graduate who played tight end for the Scarlet Knights from 1989-93.
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 yelling obscenities at players and using anti-gay slurs.
Pernetti hired an independent investigation firm to look at the video, which was given to him by former director of player development Eric Murdock, and came to the original conclusion that a termination wasn’t necessary. There has been some discrepancy this week in when Barchi saw the video. Pernetti said in a radio interview Tuesday, that Barchi saw the video in November, yet Barchi said in a statement Wednesday that he didn’t see it until this week.
Pernetti did not speak to the media Wednesday or Thursday. Also Thursday, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli resigned.
There had been growing calls for Pernetti to be fired, coming from Rutgers faculty and state legislators. But there was also a push to keep him, playing out largely on social media.
By Friday morning, nearly 3,000 people had joined a Facebook site calling for the university to keep him, several accusing the media and politicians of a witch hunt. Former Rutgers football players including Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a game in 2010, were also campaigning for Pernetti to remain in place, saying that Pernetti cares deeply about them as individuals.
Pernetti’s finest hour in what amounted to a short tenure was when he helped to orchestrate the school’s move to the Big Ten Conference, which means additional revenue by way of television contracts and more national exposure, especially in football. The move, which will officially be activated in 2014, should provide a big boost to the program in recruiting, season ticket sales, and media coverage. The Scarlet Knights will continue to play next season in the Big East.
But Pernetti’s first major move as the athletic director came in May 2010, when he hired the volatile Rice away from Robert Morris forming a union that would eventually cost both of them their jobs. That coaching search was created by the unexpected dismissal of Fred Hill, Jr., and came at a time – two months removed from the regular season – in which many coaches were already in place and were not playing the field, looking for a new job.
Rice, 44, who helped Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament appearances, was a marketable candidate during March Madness in 2010. But as programs fired and hired coaches after that postseason, he didn’t find a new home and returned to the Colonials with a new contract in hand. At that time, Rice interviewed with Fordham, and it first appeared the New York school was seriously interested in him.
There was a fit, of course, because Rice played point guard at Fordham and he had strong recruiting ties in the New York metropolitan area. Ultimately, though, Fordham went in a different direction and hired Tom Pecora away from Hofstra.
Something was off. Here was a young coach who was winning at a lower level, and had experience as an assistant at higher levels, and he couldn’t get a better, bigger job. Of course, his fiery nature didn’t help matters. In fact, in the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Colonials took Villanova to overtime before losing 73-70. Under the glare of the national spotlight, Rice showed a bit of the over-the-top behavior that would become his calling card. He erupted at the officials in the waning seconds of the game, screaming profanities at them.
But things change quickly in the coaching business, and when Rutgers had to relieve Hill after an incident at a Scarlet Knights baseball game, Pernetti looked up Rice.
Within days, Rice was hired – just like that. Turned down by an Atlantic 10 school in Fordham, and content to stay at a Northeast Conference school in Robert Morris, suddenly he was in the Big East – a much higher level than both of those conferences – with a dream job.
“He convinced me he understood his reputation, but he also understood where the line was,” Pernetti said of the hire. “I made clear to him if he crossed the line he would be held accountable.”
The move might have been too soon for a coach like Rice, and clearly Pernetti took a serious risk. After all, most Big East coaches do not land there immediately after stops in the NEC, but Rutgers and Pernetti looked at Rice and saw the man who could turn the perennially underachieving program around.
It never happened. Rice went 44-51 in three years and posted a 16-38 mark in the Big East after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season, including 5-13 in the league, and questions about Rice’s status – based on wins and losses alone – began to surface.
But Pernetti again made a questionable decision. Given what he knew about the videotape, and taking Rice’s record into consideration, he still gave the coach a public endorsement at season’s end.
“Of course he’s coming back,” Pernetti said at the time. “It’s been an interesting year to say the least, and while I think in one case some of the progress – and there’s been a lot of progress – doesn’t show, and that’s in the win-loss column. I would like it to show there. I think everyone in the program would. But you can definitely see us getting better.”
But on-the-court success is now secondary. Amid the scandal, it is now a matter of right and wrong, and the school must push forward as it tries to repair its image without Rice and Pernetti.