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Rutgers Dumps Coach

Video, Outcry Result in Firing

Hackensack, n.j. — The Mike Rice era is over at Rutgers.

The embattled men’s basketball coach has been fired, the university announced yesterday morning. Players were informed early last morning.

The news comes one day after ESPN broadcast practice footage from 2010-12 showing him firing basketballs at players from close range, aggressively shoving and grabbing players and verbally assaulting them with homophobic slurs and profanity.

“I’ve let so many people down,” Rice said yesterday morning in a TV interview. “My players. My administration. Rutgers University. The fans. My family, who is sitting in their house huddled around because of the fact that their father was an embarrassment to them. And it’s troubling.

“But at some time, maybe I will try to explain it. But right now there is no explaining it for what’s on those films. I was wrong.”

But while Rice may be gone, New Jersey’s largest state public university remains embroiled in controversy. The national outcry that erupted over the video continues to boil, not only over Rice’s abuse, but the perceived inaction by athletic director Tim Pernetti and the university’s leadership.

“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” Pernetti said in a statement.

“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 university said in another statement that it terminated Rice “based upon recently revealed information and a review of previously discovered issues.”

In that statement, Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi labeled Rice’s behavior “abusive language and actions (that) are deeply offensive and egregiously violate the university’s core values.”

“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said. “I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice’s employment at Rutgers.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie approved of the firing, he said in his own statement.

“This was a regrettable episode for the University, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice,” he said. “It was the right and necessary action to take in light of the conduct displayed on the videotape. ...

“The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable and violates the trust those parents put in Rutgers University. All of the student-athletes entrusted to our care deserve much better.”

Rice initially was suspended for three games without pay and fined $50,000 by Pernetti when the athletic director was informed of the abuse in November. Rice was barred from being around the team from Dec. 13-28.

The athletic director revealed during an interview with ESPN on Tuesday that Barchi also viewed the tape and consented to the punishment. But Pernetti issued a vote of confidence last month, saying Rice would return to coach next season, the fourth on his five-year contract.

“Today’s decision, while months late, was the right thing to do,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement. “There is simply no way Rutgers could have allowed Mr. Rice to continue in his position.

“That Mr. Rice had to go was clear. But questions still remain as to why we are only now finding out about this and why the school’s athletic director initially defended his handling of the situation. ...

“The very fact that Rutgers would subject these kids to this kind of behavior after the fact calls into question, yet again, what goes on in the athletic department over there. The athletic director has many questions to answer and one has to wonder whether he should pick the new coach.”

Eric Murdock, the former Rutgers director of basketball operations and NBA player who presented the footage to ESPN, claimed he informed Pernetti of Rice’s behavior last summer but no action was taken. Murdock told ESPN those complaints led to his firing. Murdock’s attorney, Raj Gadhok, also informed the network that he intends to file a wrongful termination suit.

Pernetti responded by saying Murdock was not fired, but that his contract expired and wasn’t renewed.

Rice, 44, compiled a 44-51 record — 16-38 in the Big East — in three seasons. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 last season. He had two years remaining in his five-year contract and was due $700,000 this coming season.

But as troubling as the shoving of players and hurling of basketballs at their heads and legs, Rutgers could not survive a coach spitting homophobic slurs at young men. The university still is recovering from the suicide of student Tyler Clementi, spurred when he was publicly outed by a roommate.

Rice’s behavior influenced at least three players to transfer, including forward Gilvydas Biruta, who left for Rhode Island, ESPN reported.