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PISCATAWAY, NJ—Amidst a swarm of negative publicity stemming from a nationally-released video of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically harassing players during an early-season practice, the university announced Wednesday that it has severed ties with the three-year coach.
Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti announced Rice’s firing a day after ESPN’s Outside The Lines aired a video of Rice shoving players, pegging them with basketballs, and yelling homophobic slurs towards the young men.
The coach is also shown kicking players and can be heard berating his team in the lengthy compilation of practice footage released yesterday.
At first, Pernetti defended the decision to retain Rice after he served a suspension and paid a fine in December. The fine was $50,000, less than 8% of Rice’s $650,000 annual salary.
But by yesterday afternoon, the director appeared to be wavering, on the verge of changing his mind. Speaking with sports radio host Mike Francesca on WFAN, Pernetti hinted that he was seriously considering letting Rice go.
Pernetti said that he had spent hundreds of hours talking to Rutgers basketball personnel investigating the incidents after they were brought to his attention by Eric Murdock, a former member of Rice’s staff.
Murdock is a former NBA journeyman born in nearby Somerville, NJ. He played nine seasons for seven different teams, and claims to have produced the video after he was fired as result of a disagreement between the him and Rice.
Murdock’s video was shown to Pernetti for the first time in November, leading to the suspension and fine. Murdock’s contract was not renewed in 2012 due to “insubordination,” but a lawyer for Murdock claims that it was a wrongful termination.
With Rice’s conduct on national display, many high-profile people have shown concern such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who quickly condemned Rice’s behavior and called for immediate disciplinary actions.
The Governor got his wish this morning when Rutgers announced the firing of Rice. Pernetti admitted that he was “wrong” to allow Rice to continue as coach.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” read Pernetti’s 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.”
According to Pernetti’s comments on WFAN, Rutgers President Barchi had seen the video last fall and was working with senior Rutgers officials on the Rice controversy.
Barchi’s statement today, however, leaves open the question of when he first watched the video: “Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively.”
Murdock told ESPN that he had attempted to alert Pernetti of Rice’s misconduct, but Murdock said Rice was “on his best behavior” whenever Pernetti showed up at practice.
The fiery head coach was 44-51 during his three seasons at the helm of the Rutgers program, following a three-year stint at Robert Morris where he posted a 73-31 record.
Three members of the Rutgers team, Malick Kone, Jerome Seagears, and Vincent Garrett, have already decided to transfer to other schools.
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