Guerry Clegg commentary: Rutgers' leaders failed

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 3, 2013 

Big-time (and many small-time) college coaches are consumed with winning.

University presidents and their governing boards are consumed with raising money in the name of growth, as if enrollment numbers and new buildings are the reflection of ultimate success.

Athletic directors are consumed with keeping their jobs. That means hiring coaches who win, which leads to increased donations to their school, which keeps presidents and governing boards happy.

So when a coach feels compelled to fire basketballs and homophobic slurs at players from point-blank range because they lack the ability to explain proper rotation in the 1-3-1 defense, well the athletic director can rationalize and justify it as a teachable moment.

Until it gets exposed to the world by ESPN's Outside The Lines.

Then the university president gets phone calls from governing board members, who have been getting calls from infuriated donors who are embarrassed, so the athletic director gets a call from the president and tells him he'd better come up with a solution before the media shows up, if he values his job.

Suddenly, the athletic director and president agree to show the world -- and their financial donors -- their integrity and fire the coach.

No sympathy here for Mike Rice, fired Wednesday by Rutgers as head men's basketball coach, for his abusive behavior toward his players. But at least Rice expressed what seemed to be genuine remorse. Whether he was remorseful for throwing basketballs at players and kicking them in practice, or remorseful for seeing his actions displayed on ESPN is hard to determine. But at least he was somewhat believable.

"I've let so many people down," he said in an impromptu press conference outside his house. "My players, my administration, Rutgers University, the fans. My family, who's sitting in their house just huddled around because of the fact that their father was an embarrassment to them."

That's in contrast to the two men who fired him -- Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi and athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Rice committed the above mentioned offenses last October. He has had six months to reflect and to change. Barchi and Pernetti have known about these offenses since October. They've had six months to determine that Rice is not suitable to be the head men's basketball coach. But they came to that conclusion only after the video surfaced publicly.

On some levels, that's worse than what Rice did. Again, that's not to excuse in any way Rice's abuse. To say he crossed the line is a gross understatement. There are ways to build mental toughness other than throwing basketballs at them. But Rice's actions were spontaneous. The decision by Pernetti, accepted by Barchi, to order counseling was deliberate.

They could have reconsidered a week later,

or a month later. Instead, they hoped nothing more would come of it and it would just blow over, like a summer thunderstorm.

Barchi's statement Wednesday sounded about as sincere as a politician's concession speech.

"Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior," 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. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice's employment at Rutgers."

When the video was released, one question that was asked was, if you are a parent of a high school basketball player, could you entrust him to Rice. Another question should be asked. Can we now trust Pernetti and Barchi to do the right thing, with or without video evidence?

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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