Rutgers Faces Calls to Fire Coach After Slur Video Emerges

Rutgers said it would reconsider its decision to retain basketball coach Mike Rice after a videotape aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using anti-gay slurs.

The videotape, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, prompted scores of outraged social media comments as well as sharp criticism from Gov. Chris Christie and NBA star LeBron James.

Athletic director Tim Pernetti was given a copy of the video in late November by a former employee. He suspended Rice for three games a month later, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.

Pernetti told NBC 4 New York in a phone interview Tuesday he thought the suspension and the fine were "harsher than you've seen in college basketball in recent memory." 

He said university president Robert Barchi also viewed the tape last fall and agreed with the punishment.

But ESPN's broadcast Tuesday has prompted an outcry among the public and some previously connected to the team. The parents of a former Rutgers athlete who played under Rice said they knew his coaching tactics were intense but didn't know how aggressive he was with the players.

"We were aware things were intense but once you see the video, it triggers a little more reality that practices really were far beyond the intensity that I thought they were," Frank Mitchell Sr., whose son Frank played for the Scarlet Knights his freshman year, told NBC 4 New York.

In one of the videos broadcast by ESPN, Mitchell, in a no. 33 jersey, barely misses having a ball pelted at him by his coach.  

"Those things were never mentioned to me by my son when he would say practices were difficult," said his mother, Janet Mitchell. 

A spokesman for Christie also said the governor was "deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior."

"It's not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University," spokesman Michael Drewniak said. 

The Miami Heat's James weighed in with a tweet: "If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I'm still gone whoop on him afterwards! C'mon."

Pernetti agreed, "This behavior and the things that are being said and the things that are being done are not acceptable under any circumstance." 

He told NBC 4 New York he and Barchi reacted swiftly when they saw the video.

"It's my responsibility that we do a full and thorough investigation into these matters, which we absolutely did in short order, and handed down a significant and punitive suspension on Mike Rice as a result of this whole thing," said Pernetti. 

Rice, who was hired by Pernetti three years ago, is 44-51 at Rutgers, including 16-38 in the Big East, after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the Big East. 

Frank Mitchell Jr., the junior forward who played for Rice, has since transferred to Ithaca College, where he continues to play basketball. But his parents now feel stronger action needs to be taken against Rice.

"I know he's a passionate coach and he wants Rutgers to succeed, but I know there's a lot more that goes into the decision to keeping a coach," said Frank Mitchell Sr. 

Pernetti said he understands why many are asking why Rice wasn't fired after the initial investigation.

"There are some things in there that, like I said, are completely unacceptable. At the same time, Mike's taken the whole thing very, very seriously since," said Pernetti. "And what's represented on this tape that's being circulated is not a full representation of the context of what goes on at practice.

"Regardless, it doesn't excuse Mike in any way for what he did," he added. 

Rice was Pernetti's first major hire after getting the AD's job.

Pernetti said the school had planned to release the tapes when they were first made aware of them, but decided not to in order to "protect the best interests" of the current and former student athletes involved.

"Can the situation be fixed over an extended period of time? I think time will tell. Beyond that, it's not a good day for Rutgers, and I take responsibility," Pernetti told NBC 4 New York. 

-- Bruce Beck and Brynn Gingras contributed to this report. 

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