Rutgers in Turnabout Will Pay Fired Coach Rice $475,000

Rutgers University agreed to a $475,000 settlement with Mike Rice, who was fired April 3 as men’s basketball coach, hours after President Robert Barchi told New Jersey lawmakers that he hadn’t made such a deal.

The amount, including $100,000 in lieu of unpaid bonuses, is less than half of the $1.1 million in severance stipulated by his contract. The accord’s terms, supplied by the school, strip him of any post-employment fringe benefits, such as health care.

“Tonight’s agreement is in the best interests of the university, and I am pleased this issue has been resolved,” Barchi said late yesterday in a statement.

Rice was let go after the Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network showed a video of him kicking and throwing balls at players while hurling epithets, including gay slurs. At an April 8 public meeting in Newark, Barchi said Rice wasn’t fired for cause. According to the coach’s contract, that meant he would be in line for about $1.1 million in severance pay.

“I have signed no settlement whatsoever with Mr. Rice -- none,” Barchi, 66, told the state Assembly’s Budget Committee in Trenton earlier yesterday. The settlement agreement was signed by Bruce Fehn, the school’s senior vice president for finance and administration.

Rice didn’t immediately respond to a voice message left at a residence listed in his family’s name in Little Silver, New Jersey.

Prior Confusion

Barchi, speaking to reporters after testifying at the budget hearing, said his remarks at the meeting in Newark had led to confusion on whether Rice would get a severance payment.

“I made a decision to terminate him and I don’t really care whether it was for cause or not, legally,” he said. “I tripped over a legal term there that I shouldn’t have.”

Settlements for two Rutgers officials who subsequently resigned, Tim Pernetti as athletic director and John Wolf as general counsel, are in place, Barchi said. Pernetti was due more than $1.2 million, according to his contract. Wolf was to get almost $420,000, according to the Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark.

Pernetti, in his resignation letter, said he regretted his role in the university’s handling of Rice’s departure.

Barchi, who was aware of the offending video in November, months before its public airing, had heeded legal advice not to watch it at the time, a decision he said he regretted. He first viewed it April 2, he said, and decided to fire Rice.

Resignation Demanded

Some students and faculty called for Barchi, a neurologist and former University of Pennsylvania administrator, to step down. Rutgers was rocked by an earlier bullying scandal that led to a freshman’s suicide in 2010. Governor Chris Christie, 50, a Republican seeking re-election, came to Barchi’s defense this month, saying critics must “move on.”

Barchi, chosen as president of the 58,000-student school a year ago, has until July 1 to merge Rutgers with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, under a plan Christie put in motion. The governor has called it the biggest such combination ever among U.S. public universities. The goal is to create a top research institution with a $3 billion budget.

Eddie Jordan, a former Rutgers basketball star and National Basketball Association player who is a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach, will replace Rice, the Associated Press said yesterday, citing a person familiar with the situation who it didn’t identify.

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