Mike Rice: A Coach That Deserved To Be Fired But Shouldn’t Have Been

On April 3, 2013 Rutgers University President Robert Barchi fired Mike Rice, the University’s men’s basketball head coach. Rice lost his job after a video that portrayed him in a negative manner became public. In the video the Rutgers coach is seen shoving and kicking his players. The graphic video shows Rice hurling basketballs at the heads and

MIke Rice, Picture from AP

MIke Rice, Picture from AP

sensitive areas of his players. Barely audible though clearly discernible Coach Rice is heard uttering homophobic slurs at his players. No one can argue with the fact that parents of the players entrusted their child’s well-being to Coach Rice and Rutgers. Based upon this video it seems that he abused their trust. The parents’ and public’s outrage to the images and sounds on the video is understandable. Coach Rice overstepped himself and his actions were deplorable.

In complete fairness to Mike Rice all of the facts surrounding the making of the video are not publicly known. I believe that we should reserve final judgment on Mike Rice’s behavior until more facts are known. The video seems to have been filmed during one of Rutgers’s practices. How coach Rice ran his other practices has not been publicly discussed.

Yet, University President Barchi, who announced the firing, only viewed the tape recently. For six months he knew about its existence, but never watched it. At the press conference President Barchi stated that Rice’s behavior was totally unacceptable. The parents of the players, the general public and pundits are within their rights to demand an explanation as to why it took so long to terminate Rice’s employment and why the President had not immediately viewed the video. I am not one of these people. It is my belief that Rice’s termination was a breach of contract on the part of the University; consequently, he should not have been fired.

Once Rutgers’ AD became aware of the video and Rice’s behavior in it, he followed established procedure and took the matter all the way up the chain of command and responsibility. President Barchi and AD Pernetti ordered a complete investigation of the matter. Inside and external legal counsel were directed to research the legal issues. A private investigator was hired to thoroughly investigate the facts. After receiving legal opinions from legal counsel(s) and the investigator’s report President Barchi and AD Pernetti deliberated and decided not to fire Coach Rice. Instead they opted to suspend him for three games, fine him $75,000, order him to anger management classes and put him on no tolerances to future infractions. The public is not aware of the details of the specific reports and findings, upon which this decision was based. It is safe to assume that Coach Rice had to sign off on his punishment. Did Rice adhere to the terms of his continued employment as head basketball coach? From what I know; he did. Rutgers had to have breached this agreement when it fired him based solely on public pressure to do so.

Most commentators and legal experts believe that the University had the right, though not under any obligation to do so, to end Rice’s employed after learning of and confirming the incidents captured by the video. If after an administrative preceding it would have been determined that Rice’s actions violated the University’s policy against intimidation and harassment or had brought shame and disgrace to the University he could have been fired. It appears that the hearing was not held. I think the University signed a consent agreement with Coach Rice that resolved the matter. The University probably reached this agreement only after no current player complained about Rice’s actions or behavior.

The firing of Rice did not quell the uproar over the video. There came calls for AD Tim Pernetti to resign or be fired. I believe that the AD handled the entire matter correctly. The decision to keep Rice was a deliberate and well-reasoned. Whether AD Pernetti technically resigned or was fired might be decided in a court of law, but is not addressed in this post. Suffice it to say; Tim Pernetti is out as AD. Also John B. Wolf, Rutgers’ interim senor vice president and general counsel who recommended Rice’s suspension is also gone. Coach Rice, AD Pernetti and Attorney Wolf all received severance packages upon leaving their positions. I wonder if the severance packages received by the men were not given in exchange for releases not to sue the University and/or buyouts of their employment contracts. 

The news media and the public talk about Coach Rice in mostly negative terms. He is described as being brusque, short-tempered and simply out of control. While watching Robert Morris’ and Rutgers’ basketball teams in action I noticed that Rice was always very animated in his gestures while coaching. He was constantly yelling at someone. Just watching Mike Rice coach made my blood pressure rise. How he controlled his is something I would like to know.

Robert Morris conducted an internal investigation of Rice’s tenure as its coach. The investigation revealed that the players and staff at the school viewed him differently than the man in the video. According to those interviewed the Rice that appeared in the video is not the same man who ran the Robert Morris’ basketball team. The New York Times reported that those interviewed said that he ran a disciplined program while trying to foster a familial atmosphere. Players and staff recalled that while at Robert Morris Coach Rice used boorish language though never homophobic or egregiously offensive. Only one person interviewed, who had transferred from the school, complained about Rice’s behavior. Unfortunately for Rutgers and its players Mike Rice was a very different person than the man who coached at Robert Morris.

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