A coach with fire and passion ignites players and fans alike. Legends such as John Wooden, Pat Summit, Geno Auriemma and Jim Boeheim are just a few fiery and passionate coaches who have been characterized by a distinctly positive aura.
Former Rutgers University Scarlet Knights basketball Head Coach Mike Rice Jr. does not fit that mold.
April 3, Rice was fired after three seasons April 3 shortly after damaging video footage of practice was obtained by ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
The tape showed Rice and Assistant Coach Jimmy Martelli physically and verbally abusing players. Both coaches threw basketballs at players’ heads, backs and groins and kicked at them. They also hurled homophobic slurs and sharply scolded players for performing drills incorrectly.
The tape even caught the eye of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who rightly called for Rice to be fired immediately.
“This was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice,” Christie said in a press release. “It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape.”
Before his three-year stint at Rutgers, Rice and Martelli had a 73-31 record at Robert Morris, two NCAA Tournament appearances and a NIT tournament showing.
“He never kicked anybody, never did anything outside the lines, and I think, if he did something really outside the lines, our players would have responded with words back to him or something back to him, but it never got to that,” Cody Wilson, a former Robert Morris basketball player, said to wtae.com in Pittsburgh. “There was never much backlash.”
Wilson played under Rice as a walk-on freshman at Robert Morris and also said that he would only ever throw balls at player’s feet.
This type of behavior is not acceptable for a leader in any situation. Eventually, Rice’s policies created a schism in the locker room that divided the coaching staff. Former Rutgers Assistant Coach Eric Murdock took footage to Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, who gave Rice a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine in December. No disciplinary action was taken against Martelli.
After the media got a hold of the footage, Pernetti fired Rice, and two days later, Martelli and Pernetti resigned.
During his tenure at Rutgers, Rice did not enjoy the same success he had in earlier jobs. The Scarlet Knights finished under .500 every year with him as coach.
While Rice did not have successful regime at Rutgers, he still holds a quality coach résumé and may find a job elsewhere. However, what top recruit would want to play under him? It is one thing to show charisma and give constructive, if not forceful criticism during practice and games, but it becomes a different story when players are abused.
Every choice we make has a consequence, and Rice’s consequences will be far reaching. Society has proven time and again that given time, we are willing to forgive athletic figures who fail, but Rice’s fall from grace may take longer to overcome than say, Tiger Woods’ recent debacle. For the sake of college basketball’s good name and reputation, I hope it does.