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April 2, 2013

RMU responds to Rice controversy

Rutgers coach Mike Rice is embroiled in controversy after video surfaced showing him hurling basketballs at players, showering them with profanity and insults, and grabbing and shoving them around the court.

Former Rutgers director of player development Eric Murdock and his lawyers gave the video to ESPN's Outside the Lines in advance of Murdock filing a lawsuit against Rice and Rutgers for wrongful termination. Rutgers has shown additional footage to New Jersey media members. The former Robert Morris coach was suspended for three games by Rutgers back in December and fined $50,000 when allegations of the practice conduct emerged. Athletic director Tim Pernetti has stood by Rice, saying that the December punishment should suffice despite new public outcry of Rice's actions.

The initial suspension was shrouded in some secrecy, as few understood exactly why Rice was being punished. But in light of the video emerging Wednesday, multiple media members are calling for Rice to be fired. Yahoo! Sports basketball writer Pat Forde wrote, "Rice needs to go, and Pernetti should be right behind him."

The video shows Rice throwing basketballs at players, including at least one towards a player's head. Rice also uses abusive language, at one point calling players, "f---ing fairies" and "f----ts". All of the incidents, according to Rutgers, happened in Rice's first two seasons at Rutgers. They came to light when Murdock approached Pernetti in the summer and when he later provided video evidence back in November.

Multiple media outlets contacted Robert Morris, Rice's former employer, for a reaction. Athletic director Craig Coleman, who hired Rice prior to the 2007-2008 season, issued the following statement: "Coach Rice's tenure at RMU was successful," Coleman said. "He is obviously an intense coach, and his passion for the game was mirrored by our student-athletes on the court. The behavior on the video is quite unfortunate, but it is not indicative of Coach Rice during his tenure at RMU."

Rice led Robert Morris to two NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT appearance in his three seasons at the helm. Former RMU players took to social media to respond to the video, acknowledging the indefensible actions while saying Rice didn't act that way in Moon Township.

Former guard Mezie Nwigwe played three seasons under Rice, graduating after Robert Morris lost to Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament and Rice moved on to Rutgers. Nwigwe's now playing professionally in the Middle East and tweeted, "Man I don't care what the media say Rice was cool in my book, a lil crazy, but cool. At the end of the day he got us to win championships."

Nwigwe also admonished Rice on Twitter, saying he had to "chill", while also adding that incidents like that never went down at RMU.

Former star guard Jeremy Chappell, who graduated in 2009 and is now playing in Ukraine, tweeted, "All I know is we had bullies on our team we wasn't backing down from nobody no team and we got that from Rice...We was all crazy though lol".

Chappell also retweeted a number of messages supporting Rice.

Brendan Prunty, who covers Rutgers for the Newark Star-Ledger, tweeted that Pernetti doesn't foresee a change to Rice's employment status. Rice has two years left on his contract and Pernetti said after this season ended that Rice would return in 2013-2014.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.



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