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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No question, Rice should have been fired

First, let me start this entry by saying that Mike Rice is a great guy. The now-beleaguered former Rutgers basketball coach is a family man, a devoted husband and father.

I've known Mike since his playing days at Fordham, when he was a tough-as-nails guard who was quick to pick up a charge and not afraid to dive on the floor for a loose ball.

I followed Mike through his days as an assistant coach at my alma mater Marquette, a hard-working, diligent student of the game. I watched him work his way toward becoming the head coach at Robert Morris and witnessed first hand a verbal altercation between Rice and former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez during a game, where Gonzalez was heard threatening Rice.

"Jimmy, did he just say he wanted to kick my ass?" Rice asked me during that game at the Prudential Center, a game where Robert Morris managed to blow a 22-point lead in the second half. "Did he really just say that?"

I heard Gonzalez's taunt and later told Rice that if a fight was going to take place between the two, I might have been right behind Rice. As everyone knows, there was no love lost between me and Gonzo.

So when Rice got the job at Rutgers, I was generally happy for him. I thought he was an excellent hire and would do a great job in Piscataway.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

The rest of the universe realizes that as well, after ESPN aired the horrific tapes of the practice antics of Rice _ throwing the ball deliberately at the heads of his players, grabbing and pushing them, calling them derogatory names, even going as far as kicking one.

Watching the tapes were sickening. Everyone had to sit in a state of shock watching them, wondering if they were for real. You almost wanted to turn away, like videos of nannies tormenting babies or sick individuals torturing animals. It was almost too unbelievable for words.

So it wasn't a shock that Rice was relieved of his duties this morning. In fact, it's a wonder why it took so long.

Rutgers thought they did the right thing by suspending Rice in December for three games, docking his pay for about $35,000 and fining him an additional $50,000.

But that was on the suggestion of AD Tim Pernetti after he was given access to the tapes. Pernetti apparently never showed the tapes to his superiors, to the school president, to the chancellor.

The powers-that-be were blind-sided by the extreme violence of the tapes. They didn't realize the brutality until it was too late.

So now Rice is deservedly gone, with the school taking a $1.8 million hit for his firing. Pernetti more than likely will be shown the door as well, because it was his duty to show the tapes to his superiors when he received them.

There are some major problems with this story. Why did Pernetti fail to show the tapes to his bosses? Why did Eric Murdock try to basically extort money from Rutgers, trying to bargaining with Pernetti and school officials, asking for a reported $1 million to keep the tapes private? That's just really sleezy to say the least.

Why didn't Pernetti fire Rice when Pernetti first received word of the tapes in November? Was it done to try to save face because Rutgers was applying for admission to the Big Ten? That news of such horrific actions by their basketball coach might be enough to steer the Big Ten clear of Piscataway?

It's just another chapter of hideous behavior involving the men's basketball coaches at the school. We recall former coach Kevin Bannon forcing his players to strip naked during free throw drills. And then there was former coach Freddie Hill, Jr. going apeshit during a baseball game coached by his father.

Now, this latest episode. Why do these things always happen to Rutgers?

Where do they go for a replacement? Well, it's late in the coach/recruiting game right now and whoever leads the RU athletic program in the weeks and months to come will have to find a suitable leader who will make the school proud in its final season in the American Athletic Conference - WHAT A PINCH OF THE ACC THAT WAS! - and then the Big 10.

But that coach will have to come on the cheap, because any coach will have to make less money than women's coach C. Vivian Stringer. However, Rutgers will most certainly have to overpay to get someone to turn this troubled mess around.

Some of my writing colleagues mentioned Danny Hurley as a possible replacement. Well, why would Danny want this mess, when he's already got a good paying gig in Rhode Island? Maybe they can woo former assistant Darren Savino home from Cincinnati. There were others mentioned like Fran Dunphy of Temple, but he's also getting more than Rutgers will be willing to pay, again less than what Stringer gets.

Whatever happens won't change one thing. Rutgers is once again the laughingstock of college athletics, with these tapes making the lead story on the network news broadcasts. Free publicity? Hardly.

Mike Rice is now gone and will take a long time to get back into any school's graces to even be an assistant, much like the guy he almost locked horns with at the Prudential Center three years ago. But nothing will change my opinion that Rice is basically a good guy who got wound too tight when he coached, made some mistakes and will now pay the ultimate price with his job.

Bad guy? No way, no how. Anyone who has ever met Rice will say the same thing. He was just completely out of control as a coach and never had a chance to harness that intensity in a positive fashion.

And it's safe to say that Pernetti might not be too far behind.

I attended Opening Day at CitiField Monday and once again, I was dismayed with what went on.

First of all, my ticket cost $130 and I was in the left field bleachers. C'mon. Jacking up the prices for Opening Day is like price gouging at a gasoline station. It's wrong. These were $45 seats at best. And the sad thing was that there were several hundred of these $130 tickets in my section.

Secondly, as I pulled up next to the ballpark, I noticed these huge tents in the left field parking lot. I wondered what in the world they were.

As I got closer, I realized that they were the home for the Cirque de Soleil troupe, which is apparently performing in the tents from now until Christmas.

Wait a second! In the parking lot at CitiField on Opening Day? What wizard dreamed up that deal? It was just another sign of the Coupon family trying to nickle and dime their way into our hearts. Can you comprehend putting some circus troupe in the parking lot on Opening Day, forcing fans to park in Astoria?

Now, you get inside and the concession lines were longer than the bread lines in Russia during the Cold War. It took about an hour to buy a beer. Or even fried dough. Yes, that's what they sell. Fried dough.

However, on the beer line, they had one octogenarian who saw Babe Ruth play live trying to operate the beer line ALONE! I've seen dead animals move faster that this senior citizen. When I got to the front of the line after three innings, I said, "Why do they have you working alone?" She replied, "I don't mind." Sure, you don't mind, Lady, but the rest of us thirsty morons do.

It was yet another example of the Coupon organization doing something on the cheap. They couldn't hire additional people to work the stands on Opening Day? Or have additional ticket takers or ushers? Nope. They let us all suffer.

Sure, the Mets won and a lot of people left happy. But I wasn't one of them. The Mets are a second-rate cheap as they come organization. I was embarrassed to be a fan on Monday.

OK, so they're 2-0 now...that's nice. But what about those blasted circus tents???

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