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Those familiar with Mike Rice recall his intensity

Published: Thu, April 4, 2013 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Joe Scalzo



On Wednesday afternoon in Venice, Fla., Al Burns was at a picnic with some departing snowbirds when talk turned to the Mike Rice saga at Rutgers.

“They knew I had coached, so they asked me about it and I said, ‘Well, I must tell you, the kid was one of my former players,’ ” said Burns, the former Boardman High basketball coach who now lives in Florida. “They said, ‘What?’ They were shocked.”

Rice’s behavior made national news, but it wasn’t news to Burns. Rice may have been one of the best players to come out of Boardman High in that era, but as Burns can tell you, “He was a difficult kid to coach.”

“He was very competitive and he couldn’t hold it back,” Burns said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There were a number of incidents with him where I had to sit him down. I threw him out of the gym on a number of occasions. I tried to curb his swearing and his temper, but it was always there.

“We had a heck of a career with him and I think it was because I was there to sit on him. He was too emotional for the game.”

Rice, whose father coached at Youngstown State from 1982-87, was a three-year starter for the Spartans, earning All-Steel Valley Conference honors in 1987. Rutgers fired Rice on Wednesday after a videotape surfaced showing him screaming and throwing basketballs at players during practice.

Burns said Rice’s behavior at Rutgers was a disappointment for him, for Boardman and for the school’s basketball program.

“I think he made a grave mistake,” Burns said. “I know down the road he’s going to be extremely sorry for it.

“You look at all the great players that have come out of our place. I am extremely proud of the kids that have gone on and done well.”

D.J. Ogilvie, who was Rice’s classmate and fellow All-SVC honoree in basketball, said Rice’s outbursts at Rutgers “didn’t shock me.”

“He was very competitive, very aggressive,” said Ogilvie, the former Boardman High coach who now coaches in Englewood, Fla., not far from where Burns lives. “Being his friend and his teammate, I loved his intensity and his competitiveness. I knew he would fight for his team and do whatever it took.

“That said, I can’t defend him. As soon as you put your hands on a kid, you’re opening yourself up for criticism. On the other hand, I’ve seen coaches grab players by the facemask. That’s just the way they coached.”

Ogilvie was also an All-SVC football player who later played football at Bowling Green. He said society has changed since the 1980s, when it wasn’t uncommon for coaches to get physical with players. He thinks it was part of growing up in Youngstown, where you were taught to be tough and respect your elders.

“You look at Bo Pelini at Nebraska and how intense he is and the Stoops [brothers],” Ogilvie said. “Everybody in Youngstown is tough and aggressive. But the way society has changed, coaches have to change.

“Obviously, I think Mike went overboard on some things but I also think part of the problem is the media sensationalizes it and dramatizes it. It bugs me how ESPN and the governor stick their nose into it. People will probably criticize me and I’m probably in the minority, but I think people are going overboard.”

Boardman’s athletic director, Dave Smercansky, was an assistant freshman coach when Rice was a senior at Boardman. He remembers Rice as a hard-nosed basketball player, “probably one of the better ones we ever had,” he said.

“He loved basketball and he lived in the gym,” Smercansky said. “I know his drive to be a successful basketball coach was all about competition. He expected that same type of competitiveness out of his players and maybe he crossed the line.”

Like Ogilive, Smercansky believes tough coaching made him a better athlete and a better person, but he knows society has changed since he was in high school.

“I think sometimes people get a little defensive when somebody yells at a kid but in this particular case, if what they said he said [to his players] was true, he crossed the line,” Smercansky said. “Obviously whipping basketballs at kids crosses over that line.”


1Houellebecq(4 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Truth be told, most coaches, at every level, have a personality disorder. They think that their methods are justifiable because it makes "boys into men". That's another one of society's fallacies. It probably makes a lot of boys into "abusive" fathers and husbands. But most of the coaches are just nutcases who are losers in everyday life and like lording their power over someone who can't fight back at the time. Make a bunch of seventh graders run till they drop while the overweight and out-of-shape coach enjoys his power-rush. Then it carries on into higher levels of sport. The NCAA indentures the athlete to the abusive coach by penalizing the athlete with a sit-out year if he switches schools. If the NCAA allowed athletes to switch schools as easily as coaches can, the abuse would end.

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2dd933(312 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I guess you could also say most people have a personality disorder to some extent. Sure am glad my 7th grade coaches were in shape and ran with us. Never-the-less, the guy was fired for his behavior...I wonder what would have happened if his team was 29-3 and going to the final four?

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3YtownSports(306 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I remember Mike Jr. as the same type of emotional competitor his dad was. Too bad for him someone didn't rein him in before it got to this point.
Does anyone at Boardman...or anyone who ever saw a Boardman girls basketball game...remember Ron Moschella's conduct? He's a great guy off the court, but became a demon around a basketball. He confronted players DURING GAMES as well as practice. His teams dominated this area and usually made it to the Regional Tournament. For the most part, his players thought the world of him.

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4Millerh113(217 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Sounds like some coaches are saying : there's nothing wrong with Rice's behavior, it's society that's changed. Whatever that means.

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5soloncometforever(7 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Rice must have inherited the same coaching behavior of another Youngstown connection -- Bob Patton, Jr. ("Mr. Ohio Basketball").

As a head coach, Patton 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 to their respective Boards of Education.

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 Bob Patton, 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.

Both Rice and Patton 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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6Cubbies(37 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I heard when Patton coached the Youngstown Pride he was involved in numerous nightclub incidents when the team would play in Las Vegas.

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7sknirak(120 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

All the preceding comments about Rice's coaching "technique" are true. On that basis, he should have been fired long ago.

But isn't it ineresting that a "disgruntled" employee released tapes of Rice yelling slurs at some of the players while getting physical with them? Those slurs had to do with gender-preference, as I understood the article in the paper.

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8walter_sobchak(2728 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

After watching the video, I can say that most of my HS football coaches from the 70's would be in jail for what they did to us on the football field. We were routinely kick aand smacked in the head, although we did have helmets and pads on. I could never understand the coach mentality, such as Rice's, that is so pervasive in their ranks, acting as if they are Marine drill sergeants. But, to call a young man a fairy and a faggot, well, that is beyond the pale.

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9Chitown_Guy(1 comment)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Bob Patton Jr's behavior should be no surprise for anyone who saw his father coach. The apple never falls far from the tree. I remember seeing Sr verbally abuse highschool players at Liberty in the mid 80's and get very physical with them. The way he treated his own son was even more shocking. Guys like Rice and the Patton's have no business coaching today's student-athletes.

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