Full disclosure: I don’t follow college basketball or football. The only time I’m ever interested is when SU is staring at a possible championship, like this year. Heck, I don’t really get basketball at all.
That said, I’m angered that the situation with Mike Rice at Rutgers got to this point. I was clued into this story by my favorite blog Dubious Quality, whose author Bill Harris has repeatedly—and rightly—made the point that we should never tolerate this behavior in coaches, yet nothing is ever done about it. My cousin, who coaches girls’ volleyball, has been on this story as well and is just as incensed over this guy’s behavior. The decision to fire Rice, months after the athletic director Tim Pernetti was made aware of the video, had nothing to do with doing the right thing and everything to do with covering their butts now that the video is out.
Harris made the point that the reason none of the players turned Rice in was that all of the players had been coached that way before and for them, this was “normal”; plus, they had no reason to think Pernetti would act on such a thing, which he obviously didn’t.
Stepping away from the specifics for a moment, consider the big picture. Our society has become tolerant of coaches who swear at their players, fly off into a rage to the point of throwing chairs around or even doing violence on their players, using racial and gay slurs with impunity and no second thought, and using language that frankly goes beyond swearing and enters a whole new realm of inappropriateness—I’m talking about where the F bomb is considered a relief. We (collectively, because this does not include me and it should not include you either) tolerate this behavior because there’s a perception that this kind of crap produces results. A lot of the coaches known to behave this way are the winningest at their level. Some people equate loudmouthed bullying with hard-nosed spirit and the drive to win; those people are morons, because neither depends on the other. The simple fact is coaches act this way because winning buys them a lot of turned heads and deaf ears, and as they get away with more and more and do nothing to control themselves, this is what happens.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Two words: Tony Dungy. He’s not only a winning football coach who guided his team to a Superbowl win, but he’s famous for avoiding bad language and not treating his players like animals. Yes he can get riled up, but he isn’t known for acting the way these other jerks have acted. And I’m sure there are many coaches out there at the high school level, even college level, who don’t behave badly either. Unfortunately there are many, many, many who do.
I’d like to pick apart this statement from Tim Pernetti now:
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. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.
Sorry, Tim, but I call BS. This behavior is way beyond anything that could be fixed with anger management sessions—and even if it could, the only appropriate response would have been to immediately fire him, and let some other athletic director make the risky call if Rice had gotten help. This is absolutely, positively, unequivocally a firing offense. I mean good gads, he wasn’t just mouthy, but foul, and on top of that he didn’t have any qualms about being physically abusive. Fining him and suspending him for a few games, and shipping him off to counseling, wasn’t good enough. Anger management counseling is something of a joke anyway; I have no doubt it helps people, but it can’t help people whose personalities are that badly broken. There’s having a short fuse and then there’s being a dickhead through and through. Spotting the difference isn’t difficult.
Ian O’Connor of ESPN makes the case that Pernetti and university president Robert Barchi should be fired too. He is completely right.
They both saw the video. They agreed on a course of action that they knew—they had to have known—was grossly inadequate. I’m not even sure why they went to such lengths to save him; he’s 44-51 over three seasons, hardly a stellar record. But not firing him on the spot shows an unacceptable lack of judgment. The head of an athletics program has a huge responsibility to players and fans alike, and should not have allowed this behavior to stand. “Take a few games off, pay some fines, go get help, and I’ve got my eye on you buddy” is not how you respond to a coach who screams slurs at players and kicks and shoves them; it’s how you respond to a coach who is a little too free with his profanity and shouting but doesn’t cross those lines, because that guy can probably benefit from some help. Mike Rice could not, and anyone who couldn’t see that is too stupid to be in a position of authority.
That just leaves Barchi. He’s the president of a major university. It’s his job to understand the politics of these situations. It’s his job to understand how parents, students, fans, and alumni will react and do right by them for the sake of the university. It’s his job to set a high standard—inarguably, Rice violated a very very low standard—for professional conduct from every member of the faculty and staff. He failed catastrophically in every one of these responsibilities. When Pernetti showed him the video, he should have immediately said: “Fire this clown, and I want you to personally make sure nothing like that works on our campus ever again.” He didn’t say that.
It should have been Pernetti, not Rice, who was under the microscope since December because Rice should have been frelling gone. And then Pernetti should have been tasked with looking at the other sports programs and finding out if there were other coaches with this attitude who needed to go or needed training. He should have spearheaded an enormous program to purge this kind of filth from Rutgers athletics, and set the gold standard for what fans, players, coaches, officials, university staff, alumni, and every human being on the planet ought to expect from any sport. Then he and Barchi could have come forward and said: “As soon as we saw this video, we did the right thing, but we didn’t stop there. Going forward we want Rutgers to be the absolute model of sportsmanship and integrity, and we know we can do that without compromising our competitive spirit.”
But they can’t say that, because they blew it. They should both be fired.