Rutgers Coach Fired After Abusive Video Broadcast
(CNN) — Rutgers University fired head basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after ESPN broadcast a video showing him physically and verbally abusing players.
The video, which ESPN said features excerpts of practice sessions shot between 2010 and 2012, initially had earned Rice a three-game suspension, a $75,000 fine and a ticket to anger management classes.
“You f**king fairy… you’re a f**king fa**got,” Rice appears to say during one session depicted on the video, which also shows him shoving and throwing basketballs at players.
Under pressure from incensed state officials to take stronger action, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti said Wednesday that he had made a mistake in favoring suspension.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” Pernetti said in a written statement. “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.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who a spokesman had said was “deeply disturbed” by the video, said Wednesday he supports Rice’s firing.
“This was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice. It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape,” he said.
Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi said he had agreed last year with an outside investigator’s recommendation that Rice be suspended, fined and sent to anger management classes.
Barchi, who apparently did not review the video at the time, said he concluded Tuesday after viewing it that it showed 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,” Barchi said. “He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University.”
ESPN got the video from former NBA player Eric Murdock, the team’s former player development director. He told the network the school fired him for blowing the whistle on Rice. The school says he was let go for “insubordinate conduct” unrelated to the video, according to ESPN.
In the video, Rice is shown several times throwing basketballs at flinching players, shoving one in the back, kicking at another. He frequently berates players in the clips.
“To see your coach physically putting his hands on players, physically kicking players, firing balls at players from point-blank range, the verbal abuse, the belittling, I was in total shock that this guy wasn’t fired, immediately on the spot,” Murdock told ESPN.
But Frank Mitchell, who played at Rutgers under Rice, told CNN what’s in the video wasn’t the norm at practices.
“From time to time, there’s some instances of throwing balls or physically making contact with players, but it only occurred from time to time, it wasn’t an everyday type thing,” he told CNN. “Obviously, the video shows it happened, but they were isolated incidents. They weren’t back to back.”
Efforts by CNN to reach Rice and Pernetti on Wednesday were unsuccessful. But Pernetti previously told CNN affiliate News 12 New Jersey that Rice’s conduct was “unacceptable and is not to the Rutgers standard.”
“That’s why we handed out the significant amount of suspension that we did and all the things that came along with that,” he said.
“I think it will affect Mike Rice wherever he goes,” Pernetti told the station Tuesday. “It certainly affects his tenure. We’re trying to do everything we can to support him. But we also had to penalize him within the process too because there are certain words that are said and actions that are taken that are not acceptable no matter who you are and where you work and certainly not Rutgers.”
The video recalled the 2000 sacking of legendary Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight in the aftermath of a videotaped incident in which he put his hand to the throat of a player. While it was another incident that finally led to Knight’s firing, it was the videotaped 1997 incident that prompted strict limits on the coach’s frequent physical and verbal outbursts and set the stage for Indiana to let him go.
It also sparked discussion about how far coaches should go to motivate players, what message such behavior sends to young athletes and how widespread such behavior is in locker rooms and practice facilities.
“Homophobic slurs? The sensitivity of people these days is amazing,” one commenter wrote on CNN.com.
But the majority of commenters appeared to be aligned against the coach. Many called Rice a bully.
“If you did this to your OWN child the state would take them from you!” another commenter wrote.
“What I think is stark here is how we can be surprised, at this point, by this,” former NBA player John Amaechi said on CNN’s “Starting Point” Wednesday. “You can walk on any sideline almost anywhere in America or Britain, on any given weekend, and see similar behaviors.”
Amaechi, a former NBA player who acknowledged he was gay in a 2007 book, called such conduct abusive, and said Rice should be fired.
“There is no context in the universe where that kind of behavior is acceptable. It’s physical and verbal abuse. It’s psychological and emotional abuse,” he said. “He should not be allowed near anybody. I mean forget sports, there is no context where his management style is appropriate.”
But, he said, such demeaning language is not uncommon in sports. Nor is a coach like Rice rare, Amaechi said.
“He’s just rarely exposed,” he said.
Rice had just ended his third year as the Scarlet Knights’ coach with a record of 44-51, and was under contract through the 2014-2015 season. He came to Rutgers from Robert Morris University, where he had a 73-31 record, taking the team to the NCAA basketball tournament twice.
Rice’s official school bio — which has since been taken down — lauded the academic success of his players and credited him for working extensively with cancer and children’s charities. The biography also noted “a relentless style that has become his trademark.”
CNN’s Laura Ly and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.