Rutgers' head coach Mike Rice shouts to his team as they take on.DePaul in the first half during the first round of the NCAA Big East Basketball Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 12, 2013. UPI/Monika Graff | License Photo
Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday a day after a video showing him physically and verbally abusing his players aired on ESPN.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” said Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Tim Pernetti. “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”
The video, which showed Rice berating, shoving and shouting gay slurs at players had parents, players and even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calling for his head.
School officials first became aware of the video last November. After an internal investigation, Rice was suspended for three games and fined $50,000. But after Rice's behavior went public, public pressure on the university to fire him skyrocketed.
"Governor Christie saw the video today for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior," said a statement released by the governor's office. "It’s not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University."
NBA superstar LeBron James weighed in, telling his nearly 8 million Twitter fans he would "whoop on" Rice if his own son had been one of Rice's players.
If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I'm still gone whoop on him afterwards! C'mon
"Honestly, we've dealt with this issue," said Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti, defending his decision not to fire Rice in December. "I would tell you that all options were on the table [including firing] at the time."
A lawyer for Eric Murdock, the former director of basketball development at Rutgers whose contract was not renewed after he complained to Pernetti about Rice's behavior, gave the video to ESPN. Murdock was on Rice's staff for two years and has filed a wrongful termination suit against the university.
Three players had transferred because of the abuse, Murdock said on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" Tuesday.
"Yeah, I was in total shock this guy wasn't fired," he said.
For some of Rice's players, however, it was easy to chalk Rice's abuse up to acceptable coaching style.
"Looking back at it now, it was extreme," Mike Coburn, who played for the Scarlet Knights during Rice's first year, told the Times of New Jersey. "It wasn't right what he was doing. But we understood it. He was trying his best."
"Did he go overboard? Yes, he went overboard. But you can't get a good feel for what went down by seeing highlights on ESPN. No one was scared of coach Rice. We didn't fear him. We just understood him."