Published May 05, 2010
Mike Rice couldn't get a sniff at Fordham, which just happened to be his alma mater. St. John's had absolutely no interest, and Seton Hall took a pass and opted to go with another young up-and-comer in Iona's Kevin Willard.
There was Iona and Tulane, but Rice opted to respectfully decline both situations and proceeded to sign an extension that was set to keep him at Robert Morris through 2017.
That was April 8 -- just a day or so after Rutgers coach Fred Hill, who had been given at least one more year by new athletic director Tim Pernetti, lost it while watching a Rutgers baseball game.
Hill became incensed, per reports, watching his father coach the Rutgers baseball team and wound up getting into a shouting match with the Pittsburgh coaching staff.
Less than a month later, Hill and Rutgers parted ways -- and Rice doesn't just have the best job for him.
A valid case can also be made that he will have the top job in the area.
For the next year or two, Rutgers will be a major rebuilding project in the mold of Indiana.
The Scarlet Knights will stink in the near-term.
Bottom of the Big East barrel kind of stench.
Gregory Echenique transferred in the middle of the year to Creighton, and Mike Rosario left after the season and is headed to Florida.
Rice takes over a program that has as little talent as anyone in the entire Big East. When Dane Miller is the guy you will build around, you are in trouble.
It's going to take time.
But Rice has plenty to sell.
First of all, there's always an abundance of talent in New Jersey. St. Anthony's, St. Patrick's and St. Benedict's are loaded each and every year, and Rice is in the good graces with Bob Hurley, Kevin Boyle and most of the local AAU guys.
There may not be a ton of program-changers like Kyrie Irving coming up in the state, but there are tons of guys in the 2011 Class that Rice can do damage with -- guys like guards Myles Mack, Myles Davis and Tyrone Johnson and big man Derrick Randle. The following class features a potential program-changer in St. Anthony's forward Kyle Anderson.
Rutgers also has football. Big-time football.
That's a significant advantage over both St. John's and Seton Hall.
It's a major sales tool to be able to bring a recruit on campus on a weekend in the fall to see a Big East football game with 50,000 fans.
So, too, is the campus and the fan support.
It's a beautiful campus close enough to New York City, but not too close. Kids aren't running home to momma every day and more important, the players' "boys" aren't making their way to New Brunswick nearly as easily as they can get to St. John's or even Seton Hall.
You can get kids from New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and even work the New England prep school circuit. Basically, work the I-95 corridor, and you don't have to go anywhere else.
When Gary Waters had it going at Rutgers, the RAC was one of the more difficult places to win in the Big East. They'd pack 8,000 into the place with the fans basically on top of the players.
Sure, the arena needs a facelift and the program could use a practice facility to keep up with the Joneses, but the RAC has the potential to be one of the Big East's most intimidating home-court advantages.
St. John's playing in Madison Square Garden sounds good in theory, but when it's nearly empty or when the fans who do show up are rooting for the opposition, it's hardly a home-court advantage.
Rice also won't have to deal with the politics of New York City basketball on a daily basis -- as new St. John's coach Steve Lavin will soon find out.
Not only was Rutgers the ideal job for Rice, but he also was the perfect pick for new athletic director Tim Pernetti.
He's been to the postseason each of his three seasons as a head coach at Robert Morris -- including two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
His final record at Robert Morris: 73-30.
Rice takes over an unenviable situation, a program that is nearly void of talent and one that hasn't been to the Big Dance sine 1991.
However, it's his dream job.
And maybe even the best one in the area that was available.