Christie Calls on Rutgers to Show Why Coach Rice Wasn’t Fired

Rutgers University Athletic Director Tim Pernetti must explain why he didn’t fire Mike Rice after being shown video of the men’s basketball coach lashing out at players physically and verbally during team practices, a spokesman for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.

Rice was shown in a video on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program yesterday grabbing and kicking players, throwing balls at their heads and legs, and shouting expletive-laden gay slurs during practices between 2010 and 2012.

Pernetti suspended Rice, 44, who is in the third year of a five-year contract, for three games and fined him $50,000 in December for what the school called at the time “inappropriate behavior and language,” without giving further details. Pernetti said in a televised interview with ESPN yesterday that it was a fitting punishment for a first offense.

“Governor Christie saw the video today for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said in an e-mailed statement last night. “There are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers.”

University spokesman Jason Baum declined to comment on the video or Rice’s behavior in an e-mail. Another Rutgers spokesman, Kevin Lorincz, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey based in New Brunswick, had a 15-16 record this season, including 5-13 in the Big East conference.

Rice’s Record

Rice has a 44-51 record with the Scarlet Knights. Prior to joining Rutgers, he spent three seasons at Robert Morris, compiling a 73-31 mark in his first head coaching role. Between 1991 and 2007 he was an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, St. Joseph’s, Chicago State, Niagara, Marquette and Fordham.

Other New Jersey politicians called for Rice’s immediate ouster. Steve Sweeney, the Democratic president of the state Senate, called on Rutgers to explain why the video evidence wasn’t released by the school.

“He should be fired immediately,” Sweeney said in an e-mailed statement. “Rutgers needs to explain why this was kept essentially secret and they need to remove this man now.”

Reed Gusciora, a member of the State Assembly who is gay, said he’ll seek to reduce the university’s funding if Rice isn’t dismissed.

“I will seek to add a provision to the state budget defunding Mr. Rice’s salary,” Gusciora said in an e-mailed statement. “Taxpayers should not be paying for this behavior.”

Rice’s Pay

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 entitles him to total compensation of $700,000 for the year ending in April 2014 and $750,000 for the final 12 months of the deal.

Pernetti said in an interview with WFAN Radio in New York yesterday that it was his decision not to fire Rice.

“I spent more time with that option on whether we should fire Mike or not than any other option,” Pernetti told the station. “I made that decision. I am accountable for it. I have to live with it.”

Rising Costs

The cost of attending Rutgers has jumped as state appropriations fell from covering two-thirds of the university’s budget in 1990 to one-third last year. Rutgers athletic teams cost students almost $1,000 in 2012 in mandatory fees and university funding of the money-losing sports program, both of which rose more than 40 percent in five years.

Rutgers funneled $28.5 million from the university budget into sports for the year through June 2011. Pernetti, who was hired in February 2009, had an operating budget of $60.2 million in fiscal 2011, when he reduced spending by $4 million after lawmakers and faculty protested that academics were losing out. The school’s faculty council voted March 30, 2012, to demand $5 million of further cuts in university funding of athletics by fiscal 2016.

Eric Murdock, a nine-year National Basketball Association player and former director of player development at Rutgers, was shown on ESPN saying that Rice’s behavior led three basketball players to transfer out of the school.

Murdock was fired by Pernetti in July, according to ESPN. Pernetti denied in an ESPN interview 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.

Termination Clauses

Rice’s contract states that he can 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.

If Rice is fired without cause, Rutgers has to pay 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 college basketball, Rutgers can offset what it owes him by the amount of his new salary.

Other college coaches have been fired for similar outbursts. Woody Hayes was dismissed after 27 years as Ohio State football coach for punching a player in the throat during the 1978 Gator Bowl and never coached again.

Others who were dismissed in similar circumstances found redemption at other schools.

Bob Knight, whose 29-year career at Indiana ended in dismissal in 2000 after a video came to light showing him grabbing a basketball 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.

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