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Puskas: Rutgers shamed into firing Rice

Published: Thu, April 4, 2013 @ 12:08 a.m.

It’s probably little consolation to Mike Rice, but at least he won’t be alone on the unemployment line for long.

The former Rutgers basketball coach is likely to be joined by Tim Pernetti, the athletic director who hired him, and perhaps other high-ranking university officials.

Rice, the son of former Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Mike Rice and a former Boardman High player, earned the very public firing he got on Wednesday.

Anyone who can watch the video of him slinging gay slurs and basketballs at his Rutgers players and suggest he was unjustly terminated is clueless. This isn’t about America losing its edge and raising a generation of wimps. It’s about a coach who knew good and well where the line was and crossed it with impunity time and again.

Good coaches can be demanding without being abusive. A coach who does what Rice did does so because he is unable to get the job done any other way.

Pernetti knew about allegations as far back as June and was provided with video documention in late November. The AD’s response — after an “investigation” — was to fine Rice $50,000, suspend him for three game and send him to anger-management classes.

That would have been the end of it, but then the video — pieced together by a disgruntled former employee of the Rutgers basketball program — went public on ESPN on Tuesday.

As soon as that happened, Rice was as good as fired. Rutgers simply made it official on Wednesday.

Pernetti didn’t want to fire Rice, who was his first major hire at Rutgers. But at some point, the Rutgers AD’s priority changed from saving his basketball coach to saving himself. Too little and too late on both counts.

Maybe Pernetti really believed Rice could be rehabilitated. But the video doesn’t lie. If a 40-something guy becomes that unhinged in a routine practice setting, he’s not going to change his ways after a few classes. Rice spent years coaching that way. Pernetti had to know that when he hired him. If he didn’t, he probably deserves to be fired for not knowing.

Those who hired Rice in previous coaching stops also bear some responsibility. Had they intervened along the way, he could have changed his ways and would still have a job today.

With a few notable exceptions — Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Steubenville’s Reno Saccoccia and the Cleveland Browns’ Pat Shurmur most recently among them — I take no pleasure in calling for anyone’s firing.

Paterno was the most powerful man in State College, Pa., but chose to do little while Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys.

Saccoccia appears to have followed Paterno’s off-the-field playbook with two Big Red players who raped a girl and others who watched and even took photos or took video of the assaults. The coach — who still has his job — also threatened a reporter.

Shurmur was a saint in comparison. He simply wasn’t a good head coach.

In most other instances, I try to look at a situation from all available angles before calling for someone to be fired. But there is simply no way to watch Rice’s behavior and contort myself into a position from which to argue he should keep his job. And I feel the same way about Pernetti.

The former got what was coming to him. The latter should get it soon.

Ed Puskas is sports editor at The Vindicator. Email him at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.


1papa1(711 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I totally agree with you ed. this bobby knight wannabe has no place coaching basketball at any level. his actions were over the line and I can't believe one of the players didn't coldcock him.

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2soloncometforever(7 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Ed: Mike Rice must have inherited the same coaching behavior of another Youngstowner-- Bob Patton, Jr. ("Mr. Ohio Basketball").

In case you haven't heard, as a head coach, Patton, Jr. completely ruined three high school boys basketball programs in the Cleveland area -- Kenston, Westlake, and most recently, Solon by exhibiting insolent behavior; publicly lambasting players and school employees; "motivating” players by screaming, yelling, threatening, and insulting; emotional abuse of players through excessive and unnecessary use extreme vulgarity and offensiveness; and emotional abuse of players through degrading, disrespecting, defamatory, belittling, demeaning, humiliating, ridiculing and vilifying tactics and comments. All of these concerns were brought by parents to their respective Boards of Education, and it wasn't until a substantial amount of parental complaints were received that the Boards of Education took severe action.

You can be certain that Rice's pattern of behavior at Rutgers existed long before this incident; after all, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I'm sure somewhere in Rice's past, while coaching at other schools, he exhibited many of the same characteristics as he displayed at Rutgers but unfortunately, many schools ignore ethics and morals to hide this type of behavior in favor of a “W” in the win column. Makes you wonder what kind of due diligence is really done when a school hires a coach. Obviously, the schools in Northeastern Ohio did not do their “homework” when hiring Patton, Jr., but thankfully Solon’s administration put a stop to his questionable coaching strategies and emotionally abusive motivation techniques after only one year on the job.

I guess I don’t understand why a high school (like Kenston, Westlake or Solon) or university (like Rutgers) would tolerate this sort of bullying. If a high school math teacher or college physics professor were to behave in this same type of manner with a classroom student, they would face severe disciplinary actions, and would in turn face civil suits. Why do schools or universities allow/tolerate this double standard for athletics?

In my opinion, both Rice and Patton, Jr. need to take this time to take a long, hard look at themselves and make some very serious changes in their lives, or perhaps start a rehab center for former coaches from Youngstown with anger management problems.

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