Friday, April 5, 2013

The Axe Continues to Fall at Rutgers

Not a single person was surprised when Rutgers University dismissed head basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday.  In fact, the University was remarkably swift in firing the embattled coach just one day after ESPN aired footage of the coach physically and verbally abusing his players during practice. 

Reactions to the ESPN story were swift, severe and far-ranging.  In full damage control mode, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti went on a non-stop media blitz, appearing on what seemed like every TV and radio station in the region.  His repeated message: I thought I could rehabilitate Mike Rice.  I was wrong.

Now we learn than Pernetti himself has paid the price for his mistake.  Firing Rice was a no-brainer.  Firing Pernetti was the easy choice, too.  But was it the right choice?

Satisfaction of the angry mob is Crisis Management 101.  That serving up Rice to the mob -- ha! -- didn't quell the outrage meant that Pernetti was next in line.  But was what happened really a fire-worthy offense?  Pernetti did not stand by or sweep the allegations under the rug.  He viewed the tape and suspended Rice for three games.  In retrospect, of course, that punishment was laughably lenient.

Rice and Pernetti in happier days
But Rice was Pernetti's guy, brought in to lead the men's program as he'd done in previous stops before.  It's understandable that Pernetti would do everything he could to save the career of his big hire.  Pernetti didn't condone what Rice had done.  From what we've been told, the two men agreed that things needed to change.  That he underestimated the severity of Rice's behavior would seem to have been Pernetti's biggest mistake. 

So while Mike Rice appears to be some psychotic, homophobic abuser of college students and the poster boy for what's wrong with big-time athletics, portraying Tim Pernetti as villain is a much harder sell for me.  By all accounts, Pernetti was a good AD, increasing the profile of Rutgers athletics and attaining the ultimate prize: an invitation to the Big Ten.  And he tried to do something when confronted with his basketball coaches outrageous behavior.  It just wasn't enough in the eyes of many.