Rutgers Men's Basketball Coach Fired Over Abusive Behavior Toward Team

Rutgers University fired its men's basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday after a video of him physically and verbally abusing players was aired on ESPN. There are still questions about how the university did or did not respond when it learned of the abuse months ago.

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Rutgers University fired its men's basketball coach today. That comes one day after a video was released showing the coach, Mike Rice, physically and verbally abusing his players during practice. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, there are questions about whether the university acted too slowly.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The video is the compilation from Rutgers practices since Mike Rice joined the university in 2010. It shows Rice grabbing players, throwing basketballs at them from close range. In one instance, Rice fires a ball at a player's head. The tape also shows Rice kicking a player and screaming anti-gay slurs.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

GOLDMAN: The video was broadcast on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" yesterday.

Social media exploded. NBA players LeBron James and Ray Allen tweeted their disgust. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, where Rutgers is a taxpayer-supported public university, weighed in as well. Then, this morning, a flurry of statements from Rutgers.

First, athletic director Tim Pernetti, the man who fined and suspended Mike Rice last December for three games, said this: I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. 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.

Then, university president Robert L. 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.

Mike Rice emerged from his home this morning in Little Silver, New Jersey and was contrite, pausing several times as he spoke to reporters, heard here on WABC-TV.

MIKE RICE: Right now, there's no explanation for what's on those films because there is no excuse for it. I was wrong.

GOLDMAN: Rice finished talking, thanked reporters and walked back to his house, but the story hardly seems done. There are possible lawsuits, principally by the former assistant to Rice who first alerted university officials about Rice's behavior and then lost his job. The assistant, Eric Murdock, says he was fired. Rutgers says his contract wasn't renewed.

And there are questions about the university's handling of the situation or perhaps mishandling. Eric Murdock says he gave athletic director Pernetti the videotape last November and then, after consulting with legal staff and Rutgers president Barchi, Pernetti suspended Rice. Why then fire Rice today when the only apparent change in the story was the public airing of the video?

Also, Barchi says in his statement, he personally reviewed the video evidence yesterday. Pernetti has said publicly, Barchi watched the tape last fall. Neither Pernetti nor Barchi commented Wednesday beyond their written statements. Several Rutgers basketball players have transferred from the university, reportedly because of Rice's actions.

But others have defended Rice saying what's on the video isn't the complete picture of an intense head coach who was hired in 2010 after a successful stint at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. But Rice's tenure at Rutgers wasn't a success. In his three seasons, the Scarlet Knights lost more games than they won.

Plus, Rice's sudden departure is just the latest. The school's three previous men's basketball coaches were either fired or agreed to leave after questionable incidents, including one in which several players ran drills naked. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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