Puskas: Rutgers shamed into firing Rice

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.

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