Rutgers University fired Mike Rice after a national telecast of video showed the basketball coach physically and verbally lashing out at players during practices while using gay slurs and vulgarities.
Rice was dismissed a day after ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program showed footage of him grabbing and kicking players, throwing balls at their heads and legs, and shouting expletive-laden epithets during practices between 2010 and 2012.
The firing was announced in a news release from the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school, which said the action was based on “recently revealed information and a review of previously discovered issues.” Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti also said he was wrong not to fire Rice when the videos first surfaced in December.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” Pernetti said. “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.”
Rutgers President Robert Barchi said today in a statement that Rice’s language and actions were “deeply offensive and egregiously violate the university’s core of values.”
The school hired an independent investigator to look into the matter, and based on those findings Barchi and Pernetti initially decided not to fire Rice, the president said.
“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said today. “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.”
Pernetti suspended Rice, 44, for three games and fined him $50,000 in December for what the school called at the time “inappropriate behavior and language,” without giving details. Pernetti said yesterday on ESPN that the punishment was fitting for a first offense.
Rice apologized today for his actions.
“At some time maybe I’ll try to explain it but right now there’s no explanation for what’s on those films because there’s no excuse for it,” he said to reporters on video shown by ESPN. “I was wrong. I want to tell everybody who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the hardship that I’ve caused them.”
Republican Governor Chris Christie said today that the earlier decision to keep Rice “was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice.”
“Parents entrust their sons to the Rutgers athletic department and the men’s basketball program at an incredibly formative period of their lives,” Christie said in a statement. “The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable and violates the trust those parents put in Rutgers University.”
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement today that Pernetti “has many questions to answer, and one has to wonder whether he should pick the new coach.”
Rice had a base salary of $300,000 for the year ending April 7. He received $350,000 in additional compensation, an annual car stipend of $12,000 and a standard benefits package for university employees, according to his contract.
His agreement entitled him to total compensation of $700,000 for the year ending in April 2014 and $750,000 for the final 12 months of the five-year deal.
Pernetti suspended Rice after Eric Murdock, a nine-year National Basketball Association player and former director of player development at Rutgers, made him aware of the coach’s behavior.
Murdock told ESPN that he approached Pernetti last summer. Murdock was fired by Pernetti in July, according to ESPN. Pernetti denied in an ESPN interview yesterday that Murdock was dismissed, saying his contract wasn’t renewed because of “insubordination” after he went to a camp that Rice didn’t want him to attend.
Rice’s contract states that he could be terminated without compensation for, among other things, willful misconduct, acts of moral turpitude and conduct tending to bring shame or disgrace to the university.
For being fired without cause, Rice is entitled to receive 75 percent of his salary for the remaining term of the contract. If he finds a position as a head coach or assistant in the NBA or Division I-A in college basketball, Rutgers can offset what it owes him by the amount of his new salary.
Rutgers hasn’t decided whether Rice will be fired with or without cause, spokesman Jason Baum said.
“That is still being discussed -- no word yet,” Baum said in an e-mail.
Rutgers had a 15-16 record in the 2012-13 season, including 5-13 in the Big East Conference, and Rice leaves with a 44-51 mark. Before joining Rutgers, he spent three seasons at Robert Morris, where he had 73-31 record in his first head coaching role. Between 1991 and 2007 Rice was an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, St. Joseph’s, Chicago State, Niagara, Marquette and Fordham.
Other college coaches have been fired for similar outbursts. The late Woody Hayes was dismissed after 27 years as Ohio State football coach for punching an opposing player in the throat during the 1978 Gator Bowl and never coached again.
Bob Knight, whose 29-year career at Indiana ended in dismissal in 2000 after a video came to light showing him grabbing a player by the neck in 1997, went on to lead Texas Tech to four National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament berths in six seasons. Knight retired in 2008 with 902 wins, the third-most in college basketball history behind Mike Krzyzewski (957) and Jim Boeheim (920).
Larry Eustachy, who resigned as Iowa State’s basketball coach in 2003 after a newspaper published photos of him at a college party drinking and kissing young women, got a second chance with Southern Mississippi, where he spent eight seasons before joining Colorado State in 2012.
Rutgers was at the center of a national discussion about bullying and the treatment of young gays in 2010 after freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself when his roommate used a webcam to view Clementi kissing a man, according to the Associated Press.
The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted last year of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and other counts, served less than a month in jail and is now appealing his conviction, AP said.
The school in February named a center to honor Clementi, which will be used for anti-bullying programs and to help people adjust to college life.