PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs during practice.
The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, prompted sharp criticism from Gov. Chris Christie, and the head of the New Jersey Assembly called for Rice to be fired.
With mounting criticism on a state and national level, the school decided to take action, relieving Rice of his duties after three largely unsuccessful seasons at the Big East school. There will be a national search to replace him.
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in late November by a former employee. After hiring independent investigators to analyze the tape, he suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes. University president Robert Barchi saw the tape and signed off on the initial punishment.
But in a Wednesday email, Rutgers referred to new information and "a review of previously discovered issues" as the reasons for Rice's termination.
"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice," Pernetti said. "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."
Rice, who helped Robert Morris to two NCAA tournament appearances, was one of the hot coaching candidates in the spring of 2010. He interviewed with Fordham, where he played as a guard, only to not get the chance to return to his alma mater. Eventually, there was a difference in opinion in the school's search committee, and Rice's fiery, in-game behavior was a sticking point.
But Rutgers, and Pernetti, took a chance on him not long after that. The Scarlet Knights had an opening because of the unexpected dismissal of Fred Hill, Jr., and Rice, who has strong New Jersey recruiting roots, seemed like a fit.
But he wasn't able to push Rutgers into the upper echelon of the conference, and went just 44-51 at Rutgers. Rice posted just a 16-38 mark in the Big East, after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the league.
But his success – or lack thereof – on the court is all secondary now. The school is no longer dealing with an issue of wins and losses, but of right and wrong.
In an interview with WFAN Radio in New York on Tuesday, Pernetti confirmed that Barchi viewed the tape last fall and agreed with the punishment. But ESPN's broadcast prompted an outcry, led by the governor himself.
"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," spokesman Michael Drewniak said. "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."
The video shows numerous clips of Rice at practice firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. Rice was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice could be heard yelling obscenities at players and using gay slurs.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) called Rice's conduct "unacceptable not only at our state university, but in all circumstances. It is offensive and unbecoming of our state."
"Mike Rice should no longer be employed by Rutgers University," Oliver said. "He must go. Meanwhile, the decision not to dismiss him last year needs a complete and thorough review."
After landing the position in 2010, Rice moved his family from Pittsburgh to Little Silver, N.J. He quickly became part of the fabric of that community, often attending church functions and youth games that his children played in. But on the practice floor, some 30 miles away, obviously, a different person surfaced.