Sports

Kallas: Did Mike Rice Have To Be Fired? Of Course He Did

Mike Rice (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Mike Rice (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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By Steve Kallas
» More Columns

It’s hard to believe that, in this day and age, a university athletic director could watch the video of Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing multiple basketball players and somehow come to the conclusion that Rice could keep his job. But that’s exactly what Tim Pernetti, the Rutgers’ AD, did this past year.

When presented with strong video evidence (pushing his players, kicking his players, throwing balls at his players and using slurs against his players) of behavior that is simply intolerable in today’s world, Pernetti decided to suspend Rice for three games without pay and fine him $50,000. He also had him attend anger management counseling and told him that he would be “monitored” moving forward.

At the time of the suspension, nobody was really clear as to what Rice had done. But now that ESPN and reporter John Barr — thanks mainly to former star college player Eric Murdock, the former Rutgers’ director of player development — showed the video of this abuse, it was only a matter of time before Rice was relieved of his position at Rutgers.

In fact, it took less than 24 hours for Pernetti to totally reverse his position and fire Rice.

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN IN THIS DAY AND AGE?

Rice, who had on-court success at Robert Morris prior to getting the Rutgers job, was hired by Pernetti. You have to think that, if Rice were somebody else’s hire, he would have been gone last summer.

But the immediate firing of Rice would have called into question the ability of Pernetti to hire coaches for a state university. And the athletic administration was able to, essentially, cover up the abuse to the public in general, a difficult thing to do in modern times. But, as it often happens, the truth eventually got out.

And to say it was sickening is an understatement.

“YOU DON’T NEED A WEATHERMAN TO KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS”

On ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” yesterday on Tuesday, Pernetti actually tried to stand and fight against very good questioning from a panel lead by Jeremy Schaap. What Pernetti didn’t understand was that he was defending an indefensible position. To say that this was Rice’s “first offense” is comical given that it was a constant two-year pattern of verbal and physical abuse.

But as interesting was the reaction of former coach Seth Greenberg. Greenberg, a very good former Division I basketball coach and a pretty good commentator now for ESPN, couldn’t quite bring himself to condemn Rice on Tuesday. While stating a number of times that he had only seen a “small sample” of the video, Greenberg did come out and say that you “cross the line” when you “put your hands on a player.” And, of course, he’s right.

But he then went on to say that physically putting your hands on a player is “probably what resonated with the Rutgers’ administration, and probably that’s the direction they went with him when they saw the actual act.”

What direction? A three-game suspension? Clearly, Greenberg didn’t want to throw a member of the college coaching fraternity under the bus. He even gave a half-hearted (and weak) defense of Rice.

“As you watch the video, you’ve got to put into context of, you know, the rest of the practice and what else was going on,” Greenberg said.

Really? Could anything have given what Rice had done some “context?” It’s utterly preposterous.

By Wednesday, after sleeping on it overnight, Greenberg changed his tune. He aggressively came out against Rice, stating that it was “impossible” for Rutgers to go forward with Rice as coach. He was right, of course, but that was a different tune from the day before. After his absurd “context” quotes of Tuesday, Greenberg said on Wednesdat, “The pictures speak for themselves and no one can condone that type of behavior in terms of physically grabbing a player. The decision had to be made. It was just when it was going to be made.”

See the difference?

And, yes, Bob Dylan fans, the heading to this part of the article is a quote from “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

WHEN DID COACHES’ BEHAVIOR CHANGE?

It was a good question asked by Jeremy Schaap on OTL that was never really answered. Greenberg tried to answer it, saying that it was never acceptable to put your hands on a player.

But that’s simply untrue.

For decades, coaches did exactly that. And while players didn’t like it, most of them took it in the once-upon-a-time “my way or the highway” world that college athletes played in. If you don’t believe me, go read “The Junction Boys” for the most extreme example that this writer is aware of.

But really, such physical confrontations took place throughout most of the 20th century in coaching. Towards the end (1990s), that kind of coach began to fall out of favor. Remember that when Bobby Knight choked Neil Reed in 1997, nobody thought a whole lot about it. When the allegations were made by Reed in March of 2000, Knight probably wouldn’t have been in trouble. But the video from the eye-in-the-sky camera showed that Reed was right. (On a total side note, many don’t know that Reed passed away last July at the age of 36. His obituary began with what you knew it would begin with — “the former Indiana basketball player whom Coach Bob Knight was caught on tape choking in 1997.”)

And don’t forget that Knight wasn’t even fired then. Then-Indiana University president Myles Brand put Knight on “zero tolerance” notice and Knight was fired some six months later for allegedly grabbing a student’s arm.

It would seem that the firing of Knight was the death knell for coaches who do what Rice did. The only question is, “Can you prove it?” In this instance, it was clearly proven. But remember that Rice did get away with it — until now.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PERNETTI AND RUTGERS?

Pernetti has some explaining to do to the university. This is a case of incredibly poor judgment. But looking forward, whether it’s Pernetti’s decision or not, the next hire is unbelievably important for Rutgers. They have been poor in the Big East (Rice never had a plus-.500 record in his three seasons there), and it was hard to recruit against the superstar coaches and programs of the Big East.

Next year, Rutgers moves to the Big Ten. That will be no picnic in terms of recruiting and/or competing. So they need a squeaky clean coach who can recruit. That’s a difficult combination to find.

WHAT ABOUT ERIC MURDOCK?

There are now some statements from Murdock’s representatives stating that they will bring a wrongful termination suit against Rutgers. But, according to Pernetti, Murdock wasn’t fired; his contract ended and it was not renewed.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY?

In the 21st century, you simply can’t put your hands on a kid. Or throw balls at a kid. Or kick a kid. Or use homophobic and other slurs toward a kid. If anything, the bar is going the other way. You may see coaches in the future (if not already) fired for verbal abuse alone.

But the other side of the story is this: Rice did all of these things AND STILL KEPT HIS JOB. Until now.

And that’s the scariest thing of all.

How much will this hurt the Rutgers athletic department moving forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…