Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti does not need to give answers for why basketball coach Mike Rice is still employed.
Pernetti does not need to answer why he only suspended his coach for three games this past season and fined him $50,000 for throwing basketballs at his players’ heads and verbally abusing them.
Pernetti does not need to answer any of this, because it’s time for Rutgers to let Pernetti go along with Rice.
This should have been easy. Watch the tape. Watch the tape that Pernetti was able to review this winter. Seriously, watch the tape. And then tell me what you would do in Pernetti’s shoes.
This was an easy call. Rice is a bully. This was Public Relations 101. This was Human Relations 101.
Now that the video is out there, how can Rice do his job? How can he recruit? How can he sit in a family’s living room and tell parents he’s going to take good care of their son?
Rice was Pernetti’s guy. He was his first major hire as athletic director, and it’s hard to let go. It’s hard to say you were wrong.
But this is your reaction (Pernetti via ESPN.com)?
I knew exactly what I was getting and I still know what I've got. Mike coaches with an edge. That personality is ideal for our program here in New Jersey. At the same time, there's a Rutgers standard. Everybody who participates in our program at any level, I make clear what that standard is. If something falls outside that standard, he's held accountable.
Pernetti is heard loud and clear: Do whatever you want, Rutgers coaches, but I’ll sit you in timeout for three games if there is the threat it might be made public.
Only, Pernetti could not let it get to this point. He should not have been reactionary.
Whether he thought Rice was worthy of a second chance or not, he should have known that if that tape ever leaked, Rice would have to go right away.
That’s the public relations side of this.
This is the human side of this: What Rice did was beyond unacceptable. I’m not standing on a soapbox here; I know there isn’t a college basketball practice in this country that is PG. I understand language is not always going to be great. I understand challenging players.
But Rice was so far over the line he couldn’t spot the line with a pair of binoculars. He hit his players with cheap shots. He abused them.
The ESPN.com story features some players who stood up for Rice. Former player Tyree Graham told ESPN:
No, I'm not personally offended by it. I was brought up like that. Coming from Durham, North Carolina, you have to have that chip on your shoulder. If you don't, you're not going anywhere. I backed what Coach Rice did for the most part…I can't say it got results. It didn't work. If those tactics don't work, it should stop.
Some players left the program and said it was unacceptable. Others, like Graham, supported the coach.
That is the flimsy argument Pernetti can make. He can say that what his coach did was intolerable—and he suspended him for that—but he’ll stand behind Rice just like his players that are standing behind him.
Except the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Pernetti is the protector of a program. He’s the protector of its image, of its athletes. He’s the adult here, the one that needed to make it clear what Rice did would not be tolerated. A three-game suspension whispers that.
No matter what he’s done for the school. No matter how much influence he had in getting Rutgers into the Big Ten. No matter how good his other hires have been.
His response to Rice's abuse speaks louder than all of that.