PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Fueled by outrage from even the governor when the video went public, Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice Wednesday after deciding it didn’t go far enough by suspending and fining him for shoving, kicking and throwing balls at players along with spewing gay slurs.
Athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the tape by a former employee in November and, after an independent investigator was hired to review it, Rice was suspended for three games, fined $75,000 and ordered to attend anger management classes. University president Robert Barchi signed off on the penalty.
But on Wednesday, Rutgers referred to new information and “a review of previously discovered issues” as the reasons for Rice’s termination.
“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said in a statement. “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.”
The video shows numerous clips of Rice at practice firing basketballs at players,, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. It also shows him grabbing players by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice also can be heard yelling obscenities and using gay slurs.
Rice, in his third season with the Scarlet Knights, addressed reporters outside his home in Little Silver, N.J., and apologized for his actions:
“As I stated three months ago after I watched the video how deeply regrettable those actions (were). I also stated I was going to try to work on changing. I think I’ve accomplished a lot of that,” Rice said. “I can’t say anything right now except I’m sorry and there will never be a time where I’m going to use any of that as an excuse or there will be any excuse.
“I’ve let so many people down: my players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans. My family, who’s sitting in their house just huddled around because of the fact their father was an embarrassment to them. It’s troubling, but at some time maybe I’ll try to explain it. But right now there’s no explanation for what’s on those films. There is no excuse for it. I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I’ve caused. ’
Gov. Chris Christie, who said he was appalled when he saw the video Tuesday, supported the firing at the state’s flagship public university.
“This was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice,” he said in a statement. “It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape.
“Parents entrust their sons to the Rutgers athletic department and the men’s basketball program at an incredibly formative period of their lives. The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable and violates the trust those parents put in Rutgers University. All of the student-athletes entrusted to our care deserve much better.”
Rice, who helped Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament appearances, was one of the hot coaching candidates in the spring of 2010. But he wasn’t able to push Rutgers into the upper echelon of the Big East Conference, and went 44-51. Rice was 16-38 in the Big East, after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the league.
Pernetti took responsibility for trying to rehabilitate Rice instead of firing him.
“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.
Rice was Pernetti’s first major hire after getting the AD’s job.
Pernetti said his decision to only suspend Rice was made in part because the coach was remorseful. Rice had a reputation as being “a fiery guy with an edge” before coming to Rutgers and Pernetti said the two talked about it for five hours before he was hired.
The video was made by Eric Murdock, the former NBA player who was hired by Rice to be director of player development.
The two had a falling out over Murdock’s appearances at a camp, and Pernetti said Murdock’s contract was not renewed. Murdock, who said he was fired, then compiled the video, splicing together the practice lowlights of Rice’s first three years as coach.
Pernetti said about 60 percent of the incidents happened in Rice’s first season. He also was upset with Rice using a certain gay slur at a university where student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after a roommate used a webcam to see him kissing a man.
“I would tell you that that word was at the core of the suspension,” Pernetti said. “It absolutely concerns me. It’s not acceptable.”