Three weeks ago, Tim Pernetti was lauded as one of the top athletic directors in all the nation, up for a prestigious award after elevating Rutgers from the collapsing Big East to the iconic Big Ten.
Today, Pernetti is out of a job as Rutgers moves full steam ahead toward its conference upgrade while the athletic department is in shambles.
There is no denying what Pernetti did for Rutgers during his time in charge. There is no denying his incredible love, passion and devotion to the school, where he played football and earned his degree. There is a reason there has been a show of support for him in the days since his resignation, from former players to powerful donors.
But there also is no denying he made a career-changing mistake when he decided to try and rehabilitate basketball coach Mike Rice. Blame has been cast in 100 directions since ESPN aired its "Outside the Lines" report last week. As head of the athletic department, as somebody who viewed the disturbing video tapes, Pernetti deserves his fair share. Though some initially believed his job may be be safe because of his stewardship in bringing Rutgers to the Big Ten, it became apparent the school could not move forward with him.
So now, Rutgers must press ahead and begin to rehabilitate its own image. It is not going to be easy, given where the school stands today. But there is no question the hire of the next athletic director is the most important one in program history. The next person in charge not only has to deal with a basketball mess, he or she will have just about one year to prepare the program to move into the Big Ten.
That, in the end, should be the ultimate goal when making this hire. Rutgers will rebuild its basketball program, and it will move forward from the ugliness of all that has transpired recently. Hiring a basketball coach with a sparkling clean resume will obviously be important. So will transparency and community outreach.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten will be there, waiting. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has already issued a statement saying it will monitor the situation moving forward. So the league already is watching. As if there needed to be any more proof about how much the move to the Big Ten matters, consider the Newark Star-Ledger has reported, citing sources:
Delany is expected to have a role in the search for a new athletic director.
Two names on the early candidate list have ties to the Big Ten: Wisconsin deputy athletic director Sean Frazier and Michigan State deputy athletic director Greg Ianni.
Delany and Pernetti have known each other for some 15 years. During the news conference announcing Rutgers as a new Big Ten member last November, Delany recounted how the match came to be. It all began when the league had some conversations with the school before adding Nebraska. The point man was Pernetti.
"This is a conversation that's played out over three or four years, me keeping him apprised of how we were thinking and him keeping me apprised of how Rutgers was thinking," Delany said at the time.
Pernetti obviously laid the groundwork for what happened. Bringing in an athletic director who knows Delany well, who has ties to the Big Ten, who knows the movers and shakers in that league, would be invaluable. Especially when you consider that Rutgers attends all Big Ten meetings and functions, including upcoming spring meetings. Pernetti was there this past February when the ADs met in Chicago.
This is a crucial time for Rutgers. The school simply cannot afford to miss on this next hire. Not with so much at stake for the entire athletic department.