Rutgers’ Pernetti on watch after Rice fired
by Keith Sargeant, USA TODAY Sports
PISCATAWAY — On a night when he hoped to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day by taking part in a ceremony to illuminate his football stadium and basketball arena blue, Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti was bunkered in his office late Tuesday night finalizing plans to fire Mike Rice.
Only hours before, Pernetti offered a vote of confidence for the university’s embattled men’s basketball coach, saying he “dealt with this issue” in December when news of an explosive tape showing evidence of Rice physically and verbally abusing players first surfaced and added that unless new allegations came to light, Rice would continue serving as Rutgers’ coach.
But when faced with intense public outcry, including calls from several state leaders to fire Rice, Pernetti reversed course, meeting with Rice at approximately 9 a.m. for 15 minutes in his office, where he terminated Rice’s contract based on, according to the university, “recently revealed information and a review of previously discovered issues.”
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of coach Rice,” Pernetti said in a statement. “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”
Pernetti declined further comment, avoiding dozens of reporters and television crews who had descended to the Rutgers Athletic Center for a news conference that never came. Rutgers officials offered no timetable for when Pernetti will speak publicly, but when he does, the fourth-year AD will need to answer a number of questions, including:
What changed from late November, when he first reviewed the tape provided by former men’s basketball aid Eric Murdock, to Wednesday when he fired Rice?
Exactly what went into his decision not to fire Rice at the time he reviewed the tape, considering the public outrage in the aftermath of ESPN’s airing of the tape Tuesday afternoon.
How much input he received from Rutgers leaders, including university president Robert Barchi and the governing board, when he opted to suspend for three games — but not fire — Rice in December.