PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti has resigned as the school continues to come under pressure due to a growing player abuse scandal.
“I do so reluctantly because I always have and always will love Rutgers,” Pernetti said in a letter to Rutgers president Robert Barchi. “I want to thank the people who have supported me throughout my years as a student-athlete and Athletic Director and help them understand my reasoning in this situation.”
At a press conference Friday, Barchi said it was a mutual decision made “in the best interest of Rutgers.”
“I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers,” Barchi said.
Speaking to reporters briefly Friday afternoon, Pernetti was somber.
“It’s a really sad day for a lot of people, including me and my family,” Pernetti said. “I always have and I always will, no matter what, want what’s best for Rutgers.”
Pernetti dismissed basketball coach Mike Rice Wednesday after a video aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs. The scandal has now cost Pernetti his position some five months after he didn’t fire Rice when the video first became available.
“I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved,” Pernetti said in the letter.
Pernetti was given the video in late November by a former employee, Eric Murdock, who filed a wrongful termination suit against the school, Barchi, Rice, the former athletic director and others on Friday.
With the approval Barchi, he suspended Rice for three games, fined him $75,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes. But the video was broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, and prompted scores of sharp criticism nationwide.
WEB EXTRA: READ THE MURDOCK COMPLAINT (PDF)
“I believe that Tim always had the good of Rutgers on his mind,” Barchi said.
“I trust that my tenure at Rutgers will not be judged by this one incident,” Pernetti said. “I am proud of my efforts to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, and of all of the accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom and on the field of play.”
“The conduct displayed by Mike Rice in the videotapes recently released by ESPN was egregious and unacceptable,” Big Ten Commissioner James Delany said in a statement. “Rutgers University has acknowledged that its initial response was insufficient and that more needed to be done. Its review of this matter is ongoing.”
“While we remain interested in the outcome of Rutgers’ review, and will continue to monitor the situation as appropriate, it will have no impact on Rutgers’ transition to, or membership in, the Big Ten Conference,” Delany added.
Pernetti said his initial instinct was to fire Rice “immediately.”
“However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel,” he said. “Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”
Pernetti’s wife, Danielle, told reporters Friday that the situation was “unfair.”
“Tim Pernetti is the best athletic director that they could ever have,” she said. “Always does the right thing.”
Former Giants center and Rutgers alum Shaun O’Hara was also making the rounds defending Pernetti. O’Hara was a guest on WFAN’s “Boomer & Carton” show when Craig Carton delivered the news — the athletic director was out at RU.
“Wow,” said a stunned O’Hara. “I’m extremely disappointed and really, I’m flabbergasted. I feel like during this whole thing, from the information that I have gathered and that I have gotten people that I respect, Tim Pernetti did what he was supposed to do. He did the protocol as the athletic director: report this to your superiors. He hired an outside firm to do an investigation. He went through the protocol for this type of situation.”
O’Hara added: “He saw the wrongs, he corrected them, he disciplined the coach, he did what he should have done. And now nobody is sticking up for him. This has gone from a black eye now to another step further for Rutgers. And losing Tim Pernetti, I feel like this is a huge loss for the university as well as the athletic department.”
Pernetti has also received support from Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the inspirational Eric LeGrand, both former football players at Rutgers.
Pernetti, 42, is a New Jersey native and a Rutgers graduate who played tight end for the Scarlet Knights from 1989-93.
“My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the University which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain. … I am proud of my efforts to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, and of all of the accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom and on the field of play. I want to thank our great fans, the hardest working staff in collegiate athletics, and every one of our fine student-athletes. It has been my great pleasure to serve my alma mater,” he said.
The video shows numerous clips of Rice at practice firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. Rice was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice could be heard yelling obscenities at players and using gay slurs.
PALLADINO: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!
New Jersey gay rights group Garden State Equality said Pernetti’s exit was “necessary and appropriate” and called for further action from state government.
“(W)henever a terrible situation like this one occurs, the end-goal must not be a single firing or even multiple firings,” Garden State Equality executive director Troy Stevenson said in a statement. “It has to be about changing the climate and culture of the university: eliminating homophobia, misogyny, and hate speech from campus locker rooms and making sure that no student is ever subjected to harassment, intimidation, or bullying on campus.
“That’s why we will continue to demand a full and thorough, investigation initiated by the state that goes to the highest levels of the Rutgers administration, to determine who knew what, when they knew it, and why they failed to act immediately.”
The group said it will be filing an Open Public Records request to the Rutgers Board of Governors “to release all documents and information related to the internal investigation conducted on Coach Rice.”
Gov. Chris Christie released a statement Friday saying, “The decision today by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to resign is appropriate and necessary given the events of the past six months. I commend President Barchi for his decisive leadership in coming to an agreement with Mr. Pernetti to have the Athletic Department of Rutgers University come under new leadership.
“This entire incident was regrettable and while it has damaged the reputation of our state University, we need to move forward now on a number of fronts which provide great opportunities for Rutgers’ future. Completing the ground-breaking merger agreement with UMDNJ. Preparing for our academic and athletic entry into the Big 10 conference. Implementing Rutgers’ share of New Jersey’s $1.3 billion capital commitment to higher education. Finally, conducting a national search for a new athletic director and a new men’s basketball coach for athletic competition next year and in 2014 for our entry to the Big 10.
“I want to thank Tim Pernetti for his many contributions to Rutgers as a student, athlete and athletic director and for taking responsibility for his role in this difficult episode in the 250 year history of Rutgers University.”
At the campus news conference Friday, Barchi said he first saw the video this week, but was aware it existed in late November. He said Pernetti gave him a summary of what was on the Rice video at the time.
“This was a failure of process. I regret that I did not ask to see this video when Tim first told me of its existence,” Barchi said. “I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers.
“I also apologize to the LGBTQ community and all of us who share their values for the homophobic slurs shown on that video. I personally know how hurtful that language can be.”
Based on the summary he received from Pernetti, Barchi said he “agreed with and supported his recommendation to suspend, rather than fire, coach Rice at that time. It was not until Tuesday evening of this week, when I watched the video, that I had the opportunity to witness personally for the first time what Tim had seen last fall.”
“I was deeply disturbed by the behavior that the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be. As Tim acknowledged on Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate, rather than fire, coach Rice was wrong.”
Also resigning Friday was John B. Wolf, Rutgers’ interim senior vice president and general counsel who is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December. Assistant coach Jimmy Martelli resigned on Thursday.
“If I had to do it again, I would have asked for that video,” Barchi said.
The resignation of Pernetti hasn’t assuaged the concerns of many members of the faculty.
“I would have grave concerns about the future of Rutgers University with President Barchi and his administration still running the show,” graduate school dean Maggie Shiffrar at Rutgers Newark told WCBS 880 reporter Levon Putney on Friday.
She’s one of several faculty members who signed a letter calling for Barchi to resign.
“If read that the students in my university are being physically and psychologically assaulted by their coach, how do I decide that’s not something that needs to be dealt with severely and immediately?” she said.
What should be done going forward?
“There should be safeguards in place that the university’s highest management, from the president up to the governing boards are aware of activities and behaviors with the athletics department,” said Rutgers faculty union head Patrick Nowlan, adding that academics should be treated as as important as athletics.
“I consider resigning every single day when I wake up,” Barchi said Friday.
There had been growing calls for Pernetti to be fired, coming from Rutgers faculty and state legislators. But there was also a push to keep him, playing out largely on social media.
By Friday morning, nearly 3,000 people had joined a Facebook site calling for the university to keep him, several accusing the media and politicians of a witch hunt.
Pernetti’s finest hour in what amounted to a short tenure was when he helped to orchestrate the school’s move to the Big Ten Conference, which means additional revenue by way of television contracts and more national exposure, especially in football. The move, which will officially be activated in 2014, should provide a big boost to the program in recruiting, season ticket sales, and media coverage. The Scarlet Knights will continue to play next season in the Big East.
But Pernetti’s first major move as the athletic director came in May 2010, when he hired the volatile Rice away from Robert Morris forming a union that would eventually cost both of them their jobs. That coaching search was created by the unexpected dismissal of Fred Hill, Jr., and came at a time — two months removed from the regular season — in which many coaches were already in place and were not playing the field, looking for a new job.
Rice, 44, who helped Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament appearances, was a marketable candidate during March Madness in 2010. But as programs fired and hired coaches after that postseason, he didn’t find a new home and returned to the Colonials with a new contract in hand. At that time, Rice interviewed with Fordham, and it first appeared the New York school was seriously interested in him.
There was a fit, of course, because Rice played point guard at Fordham and he had strong recruiting ties in the New York metropolitan area. Ultimately, though, Fordham went in a different direction and hired Tom Pecora away from Hofstra.
Something was off. Here was a young coach who was winning at a lower level, and had experience as an assistant at higher levels, and he couldn’t get a better, bigger job. Of course, his fiery nature didn’t help matters. In fact, in the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Colonials took Villanova to overtime before losing 73-70. Under the glare of the national spotlight, Rice showed a bit of the over-the-top behavior that would become his calling card. He erupted at the officials in the waning seconds of the game, screaming profanities at them.
But things change quickly in the coaching business, and when Rutgers had to relieve Hill after an incident at a Scarlet Knights baseball game, Pernetti looked up Rice.
Within days, Rice was hired — just like that. Turned down by an Atlantic 10 school in Fordham, and content to stay at a Northeast Conference school in Robert Morris, suddenly he was in the Big East — a much higher level than both of those conferences — with a dream job.
“He convinced me he understood his reputation, but he also understood where the line was,” Pernetti said of the hire. “I made clear to him if he crossed the line he would be held accountable.”
The move might have been too soon for a coach like Rice, and clearly Pernetti took a serious risk. After all, most Big East coaches do not land there immediately after stops in the NEC, but Rutgers and Pernetti looked at Rice and saw the man who could turn the perennially underachieving program around.
It never happened. Rice went 44-51 in three years and posted a 16-38 mark in the Big East after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season, including 5-13 in the league, and questions about Rice’s status — based on wins and losses alone — began to surface.
But Pernetti again made a questionable decision. Given what he knew about the videotape, and taking Rice’s record into consideration, he still gave the coach a public endorsement at season’s end.
“Of course he’s coming back,” Pernetti said at the time. “It’s been an interesting year to say the least, and while I think in one case some of the progress — and there’s been a lot of progress — doesn’t show, and that’s in the win-loss column. I would like it to show there. I think everyone in the program would. But you can definitely see us getting better.”
But on-the-court success is now secondary. Amid the scandal, it is now a matter of right and wrong, and the school must push forward as it tries to repair its image without Rice and Pernetti.
Good move giving Pernetti the boot? Sound off in the comments…
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)