Mike Rice is shouting at his star player, Eli Carter, and Carter is shouting back. There are 30 seconds left in the game and Carter, seeing an opening, took the ball to the hoop with Rutgers up two points. With the shot clock turned off, it’s a shot that’s only advisable if it’s wide open; it wasn’t, and Carter’s lay-up in traffic rimmed out. A Rutgers player grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled, bailing out Carter.
While Carter’s teammate was shooting free throws, Rice and Carter screamed at each other, the coach asking how he could take that shot, the player not realizing it was a rhetorical question. Someone unfamiliar with Rice would side with him—how can you talk back to the coach? Those who know Rice’s history, however, might ask a different question: Why do players put up with this?
In December, the public learned about Rice’s behavior at practice—belittling players with offensive language and throwing basketballs at them. It was shocking but not surprising. A (moving) picture’s worth a thousand words, and yesterday ESPN released video of these practices. To see Rice in action—whipping a ball at a player’s head, shoving a player, kicking another, all while showering them with profanity, much of it anti-gay—is stunning. It was the same video Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti viewed last summer before deciding to suspend Rice for three games last December, fine him $50,000, and order him to attend anger management classes—a slap on the wrist. It’s fair to ask if Pernetti, who has been at Rutgers since 2009, should be fired for not taking a tougher stance. It’s not even a question whether Rice should be fired now.
Watching Rice coach, you wonder how he gets any players to come to Rutgers. Recruits attend games (and practice) as part of their visits. Wouldn’t they see Rice’s antics and decide to attend a different school? There’s a lot of basketball talent in New Jersey—St. Benedict’s, St. Anthony’s, Patrick School, Roselle Catholic send multiple kids to Division I schools every year. Getting one or two top recruits from these schools every year and you’ve got the foundation for an elite program. But put yourself in these kids’ shoes. Duke and Coach K want you. Maybe Kentucky does too. At the very least, other Big East schools are interested—Villanova, St. John’s, Pitt. Wouldn’t you prefer the school that’s not coached by a guy that makes Bobby Knight look like Mother Theresa?
So far, one current Rutgers player has transferred since the news broke yesterday, starting guard Jerome Seagears. It’s likely more will join him.
Maybe there’s something in the water fountains at the RAC (Rutgers Athletic Center). Kevin Bannon, Rutgers coach from 1997-2001, was fired after it was discovered he forced his players to run sprints naked after they missed some free throws.
Rice’s behavior certainly qualifies as a fireable offense, but let’s say you disagree. How about this: 44-51, Rice’s record in three seasons at Rutgers. He is 16-38 in the Big East and was just 15-16 (5-13 in conference) this season. Rutgers has never finished better than tied for 11th in the league since he took over, and no Rutgers player has made the all-Big East teams (not even honorable mention). Rutgers has no players in the Rivals top 150 committed in any future classes.
Perception is all that matters in recruiting, and right now Rice’s name is poisoned. Firing him now gives Rutgers a two-year jump on getting the program back on track (his contract runs through the 2014-15 season).
Rice is, for the most part, a mild-mannered guy off the court. But we have video proof of how he behaves on it, which only confirms what we’ve seen from him on the sidelines during games.
Rutgers has gone through four coaches since Bob Wenzel was fired in 1997. He was the last coach to take the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Tournament, back in 1991. The coaches since have had varying backgrounds and styles, yet they haven’t won. Maybe Rutgers basketball won’t become a power. It doesn’t have to be an embarrassment.
Rice has to go. Pernetti probably should, too. You can’t have a program without players, and who will want to play for Mike Rice now?