Philadelphia, PA – The Rutgers men's basketball program is in one of its darkest hours.
The school should be getting ready for a transition into the Big Ten, which was already going to be a difficult process.
Athletic director Tim Pernetti announced that head coach Mike Rice was fired on Wednesday after video of the Scarlet Knights' practices went viral. During practices, Rice clearly grabbed, insulted and hurled basketballs at his players, and he lashed out at players in tirades laced with homophobic and sexist slurs.
Former NBA star Eric Murdock pointed out Rice's inappropriate behavior to Pernetti over the summer and the coach was suspended for three games in December following the athletic department's investigation of the same videos many are watching today.
There is a fine line between what is acceptable and not from today's college basketball coaches. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is highly regarded by basketball experts for his contributions to the game. This season, when his Blue Devils made their trip to Charlottesville to take on Virginia, he spent an entire timeout trying to intimidate an official rather than going over strategy with his squad. California head coach Mike Montgomery was under scrutiny this season for giving his star shooting guard, Allen Crabbe, a mild push in the chest as motivation during a timeout.
Being a college basketball coach at the Division I level is a privilege. They are all very well paid compared to the common worker. Mistakes are going to be made by the men in charge, it's inevitable. Coach K showing aggression toward a paid official is an example as is Montgomery's shove of Crabbe. Although being in charge of a program is sure to yield the stress and pressure of winning, there is no excuse for behavior like Rice's.
Bobby Knight is considered one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball, but the example he set was terrible. Many coaches are state employees hired by academic institutions, but what are they teaching? Even the top coaches without blemishes on their resumes likely have been guilty of setting a poor example.
In the current era, when social media reign supreme, every coach is in a fish bowl. The Bobby Knights of the world are not going to have the same success they did two decades ago. Indiana dealt with Knight for years, but he also produced wins and championships.
Rice was hardly comparable to Knight. His hard-nosed and inappropriate approach to coaching didn't help lift Rutgers out of the Big East's lower echelon. He went 44-51 in three seasons. With his shadow haunting the program, its transition to the Big Ten will only be harder.
So with Rice failing to produce results and conduct himself in a responsible manner, he was still given a second chance by Pernetti. The AD explained himself on the school's website.
"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," he said.
Pernetti admitting to his mistake months after the fact may not be enough to save his job. It would have been easy to let go Rice when school officials got their hands on the tapes last year.
Rutgers wouldn't have owed him any money, and if he sued, it could have threatened to release the tapes as leverage. Instead, Rice was suspended for just three games.
He was physically pushing and kicking his players and just sent home for three games. Imagine what would have happened if one of the kids responded. A 19- year-old's entire career could have been put at risk if a physical altercation occurred.
Rice will be lucky to get another coaching job at any level and Pernetti is faced with a much bigger mess to clean up. It appears he never considered the outcome if the tapes became public, which is mind-boggling because practice tapes can be sought using the Freedom of Information Act.
Once the tapes were sent through the social media world, Rutgers jumped into the national spotlight. When Montgomery' incident was discussed, there was a great deal of debate whether the Golden Bears coach crossed the line. There is no question on this manner.
Rice knew the practices were being taped and he still acted the way he did. The impact that he has made at Rutgers goes beyond the basketball court. Any high school recruit for any sport is going to be less likely to go to a school where the AD allowed such behavior.
The Scarlet Knights' entire athletic program could suffer from the disturbing methods of Rice. Pernetti will have a lot of questions to answer over the next few days.