Well, following the (justified) outcry over this, it wound up being the only option: Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice this morning. The school’s statement:
Based upon recently revealed information and a review of previously discovered issues, Rutgers has terminated the contract of Mike Rice.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” said Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Tim Pernetti. “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”
First, Rice speaking on the firing:
And now, more on Rutgers’ statement. We’re interested to know what the “recently revealed information” is – i.e. if it’s anything other than “Oh shit, people are really pissed at us now and we better do something to cover our own asses because every position of ‘leadership’ in the world is really on some level about ass-covering.” And to give AD Tim Pernetti a little credit here, he did own up to making a mistake – but that’s doing little to quell the firestorm surrounding the program (and, judging by reading this, not doing much to quell the backlash against Pernetti himself either).
Such backlash is easy to understand – the behavior documented in the video ESPN showed yesterday (which, again, you can see here), even if it didn’t represent the majority of Rice’s conduct, was unacceptable, and it clearly happened many times over an extended period. And as Rutgers’ statement – and Rice’s prior suspension – makes clear (“previously discovered issues”), the school knew about the conduct. So, in fairness, did the general public (the throwing-basketballs-at-players’-heads thing was reported when Rice was first suspended), ad there wasn’t widespread outcry for Rice’s ouster then… but the general public didn’t see the video until yesterday. Once it did, Rice was done.
And now, the personal. What do I, a Rutgers alum and fan, think of all this? Well, for one, I’m relieved Rice is gone, and hope that end result causes any other coach who ever acts like this – and you know they’re out there – to change methods. I’m a little bit numb to the bad press, but mostly furious that seemingly every time my school is in the public eye, it’s for something awful. I’m proud of my association with Rutgers – and just about every time Rutgers makes news, that pride seems to get harder and harder to explain.
That’s why at this point, I can say something I wouldn’t have imagined saying a few months ago – you know how some people are saying Pernetti and Rutgers president Robert Barchi might have to go, too? I won’t actively campaign for their firing, but if they wind up out the door, I won’t be sad. Keep in mind, a few short months ago Pernetti guided Rutgers into the Big Ten, which I said at the time was nothing short of monumental, and Barchi (though he’d been president for far too little time to have set the idea in motion) presided over a merger of Rutgers and UMDNJ, giving Rutgers the viable medical school it’s lacked for too long. The two could do no wrong.
Of course, at the time I already should have been brainstorming possible ways all these positive developments could be severely undermined, or at least preparing for it to happen somehow. Because it sure has now, and Barchi’s statement doesn’t exactly inspire confidence:
Rutgers University has a long and proud history as one of the nation’s most diverse and welcoming academic institutions. Coach Rice’s abusive language and actions are deeply offensive and egregiously violate the university’s core values.
When video excerpts of basketball practices were reviewed last fall by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, he immediately notified me and sought the advice of internal and outside counsel. The university hired an independent investigator to look into this matter thoroughly. 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. Tim Pernetti also made it clear to Coach Rice that there would be zero tolerance for additional infractions. Tim kept me fully apprised and I supported his actions.
Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. 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. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice’s employment at Rutgers.
Wait, so… he hadn’t “personally reviewed the video evidence” before yesterday? Maybe that’s not what the statement is saying, but it seems to. And if he hadn’t: well, why the hell not? No one comes out of this shitstorm looking good, or even neutral, here. This is a mess, and as Pernetti’s own words in Rutgers’ statement indicates, he has a lot of work to do to clean it up – if he’s around to do it. That starts with finding a new coach, but right now I don’t care about any of that. I care that my alma mater, a school with a lot to be proud of, is a national embarrassment. Again. Firing Rice was a first step toward not being that anymore, but the work just started. It’ll be an exhausting job to finish – almost as exhausting as caring about Rutgers.