Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rice Not Always Nice, But Fiery Coach Isn’t Going Anywhere


By Zach Smart

It was all on tape.

After all these years of extreme volatility, amusing abusive behavior which has entertained crowds from the bandbox gyms of the Northeast Conference to the jam-packed arenas of the Big East, Mike Rice’s over the top antics finally got….#taped. 

Holding a thousand-plus word rap sheet citing everything from over-aggressive, in-your-face venom spewing to excessive verbal thrashings, malicious shoving, and pelting players’ heads with basketballs (very few of these incidents have resulted in suspensions, until recently), the once-invisible Mike Rice’s shithouse rat-crazy antics have taxed the patience of Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Pernetti is no stranger to severe nut bag coaches.

 He dealt with the NCAA’s version of comic the insult dog in Fred Hill.

 Hill, who helped lodge lowly Rutgers into the Big East basement year after year, was fired in June of 2010 for an off-the-court incident. An embarrassing off-the-court incident during a baseball game that is. Hill was rendered a veritable child, berating players and an umpire in clear plain sight. Nobody ever called Rutgers a haven of high character coaches. Not on the men’s sports side, at least.

The eye pollution Pernetti and sports fans everywhere were awakened to showed the sheer desperation of Rice’s mechanisms. Scenes from a marathon-load of tapes, in which Rice is hurling balls at his players’ heads (while calling them pussies, motherfuckers, faggots, and cunts) have spread to ESPN, Youtube, and the growing blogosphere.

The style Rice has been enforcing for years, the style he inherited from his father, Mike Rice Sr. (who coached at Duquesne and Youngstown State, preaching intensity and discipline with an iron fist) has dented his credibility. It has made him public enemy No.1 to sports scribes and columnists across the eastern seaboard.

But has it hampered his relationship with his players? Will it lead to his dismissal?

Despite the claims of since-fired assistant Eric Murdock, the former NBA player now filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers, a number of players—Mount Vernon native Mike Colburn, Robert Lunkins, and Wally Judge to name a few—defended their fiery floor leader during a recent interview with ESPN .

Murdock claims that Rice also disrupted the mental health of his players, which does not seem far off at all. Murdock said that multiple players lost sleep, weren’t eating right, and were affected deeply beyond the basketball court due to Rice’s bullying. Murdock himself said he was victim to the name-calling and in-house hostility that nobody under Rice’s military-like command is spared from.

Demanding His Respect

The incident jolted folks (those who were unaccustomed to Rice’s style) out of their seats.

During a game at Quinnipiac in 2007, former Robert Morris Guard Tony Lee brushed Rice off while the coach was giving him a very cold, long stare-down. Lee shook his head in a “man, forget you” fashion, as he walked away from him during a team huddle.

Within a matter of seconds, the dangerous disciplinary style of Mike Rice was on full display. Looking like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman confronting Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, Rice’s eyes lit up. His teeth clenched together, his right hand hung by his waist and quickly curled up into a fist. The nut was furious. Akin to a mad dog that refused morning medication, Rice was steaming. Breathing hard and about as heavily as Darth Vader after smoking a pack of Newports, Rice spewed out a slew of eardrum-piercing obscenities.

The children sitting in the front rows were forced to cover their ears, to no avail. The words ricocheted from one end of the TD Banknorth arena to the other.

“This guy is fucking nuts,” blurted out one reporter on press row, failing to hold in his laughter.

 Did Lee seem incensed or offended by it?

Not at all. As the game went on, the two acted as if nothing ever happened. Rice later heaped praise on his player in the post-game press conference.

There was the incident at Robert Morris’ home court in 2010. After a series of calls drew the coach’s ire, Rice charged at a pair of refs at his home court. Like a rabid dog attacking intruders, Rice chased them off the floor.

Players recruited by Mike Rice know what they are signing up for when they pen that letter of intent. They should be well aware of Rice’s known reputation as wild disciplinarian.

He’s a poor man’s Bobby Knight. At any given moment, the mercurial Rice can snap… like Rasheed Wallace if he found his grape Dutch Masters collection or strawberry Phillies missing.

You can see why Murdock is upset. He did not agree with the system Rice was running. He turned his nose at Rice’s Hitler-like tactics through practice, trying to serve as the good cop to Rice’s T1000.

Murdoch, like so many before or after him, does not see how Rice’s maniacal methods could translate to team success. Being a complete dick usually doesn’t result in a core of players willing to walk through fire for you.

In Rice’s case, this is his way and his way only. This is the only way. You can’t change the stripes of a zebra. Rice yells at his assistants the same way he does his players. He will shred, scratch, punch, kick, and heave a basketball at the dome of anyone who refuses perform everything his way.

Despite how the case with Murdoch pans out, despite the stream of bad publicity this has given the school, Rice will remain at the helm. That’s because (as Murdoch initially stated) Rice is Pernetti’s golden hire, a proven winner burning to put Rutgers men’s basketball on the same plane as women’s basketball. At Robert Morris, Rice piloted the Colonials to three straight first place finishes, back-to-back conference titles and an overall NEC record of 46-8.

Players have claimed Rice’s proclivity for pelting them with basketballs in practice isn’t all out of rage. Rice is said to be doing this to express the lack of respect opponents have for Rutgers, in effort to fire them up.

He may be the craziest coach on this side of Bobby Gonzalez, but Rice earns a certain measure of respect and love from his players.

Basketball is a macho sport. Scour a football practice one day, sit in on a practice of the most physical NCAA hockey team. Then, come back and see how bad of a guy Mike Rice really is.

It’s not always pretty. It’s never excusable. The video, which many coaches should find disturbing, is indicative of that.

Mike Rice is about as charming as Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight, Bobby Huggins and Coach K put together. Think about that statement. Chew on it.

Whether right or wrong, no coach is better suited for this job than Mike Rice.