- Don Van Natta Jr., Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- In several dozen hours of video of Rutgers men's basketball practices obtained by "Outside the Lines," coach Mike Rice is seen hurling basketballs from close range at his players' heads, legs and feet; shoving and grabbing his players; feigning punching them; kicking them; and screaming obscenities and homophobic slurs.
The video shows practices from 2010-12. About 30 minutes of the video was viewed in December by athletic director Tim Pernetti, who suspended Rice for three games that month and fined him $50,000. But the incidents in the videos obtained by "Outside the Lines" appear to go beyond Pernetti's description at the time, when he cited "inappropriate behavior and language" between Rice and his players. When he announced the suspension on Dec. 13, Pernetti offered few specifics after conducting a week-long investigation.
In addition to Rice's physical actions seen in the practices, Rice calls Rutgers players "f----ts," "m-----f-----s," "p-----s," "sissy b-----s," and "c---s," among other epithets.
Eric Murdock, an ex-NBA player and a former director of player development for the Scarlet Knights, told "Outside the Lines" that Rice's "outrageous" behavior had caused at least three players to transfer from the team, including forward Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island prior to last season. The Newark Star-Ledger, citing an anonymous source, reported Tuesday night that two more players had decided to leave the school at the end of the academic year, though it was unclear why.
Murdock, a 44-year-old, nine-year NBA veteran, was fired by Rice and Pernetti in early July. Murdock's attorney, Raj Gadhok, said Tuesday that Murdock intends to sue Rutgers for wrongful termination as early as Friday.
"Mr. Murdock was terminated for having complained of and reported illegal conduct by Mike Rice," Gadhok said. "As a result, his employment was terminated by Rutgers University. That is unlawful in the state of New Jersey and Eric intends to pursue legal action for his wrongful termination, which the university and its representatives have been aware of for some time now. We have no further comment at this time."
Biruta, who was born in Lithuania but played high school basketball in New Jersey, described his treatment.
"He would throw his cap at me and he would call me many names," he said of Rice. "The adjectives were creative. They were mean words."
Biruta said Rice's insults were often not about his game but about him personally. "If you're going to criticize me as a basketball player, I'm OK with that," he said, "but he would criticize me as a person."
On a 30-minute video Murdock said he showed Pernetti and other Rutgers officials in December, Rice is seen hurling a ball from point-blank range just passed Biruta's head, shoving him and repeatedly swearing at him. At another point, Rice hurls a ball that strikes Biruta's knee. He appears momentarily hurt and has to sit out a play.
"The one thing I hated," Murdock said of Rice, "he would always talk about 'Lithuanian this, Lithuanian that,' talk about where he's from, 'soft-ass Lithuanian b----,' 'soft-ass Lithuanian p----.' His nickname was basically 'Lithuanian f----t.'"
Biruta said the main reason he left Rutgers was because of Rice's treatment. "Mostly it was because of the way he was leading the team," he said. "I didn't think that was a way to lead."
Some players were deeply affected by Rice's treatment of them, Murdock said, adding that he watched it undermine their desire to play. "There were some players who couldn't sleep at night, who wasn't eating, who didn't want to come to the gym," he said, adding that he told Pernetti about that, too, in December.
Pernetti said on Tuesday afternoon on "Outside the Lines" that his investigation of Rice began in the summer and culminated with his December punishment. Pernetti said Rice's actions were not aligned with what the university believes is acceptable, but that the behavior was a "first offense" and was handled appropriately. Rutgers learned of "Outside the Lines'" plans to air video of practices this week. On Tuesday afternoon, Rutgers athletic officials hastily arranged a showing of the 30-minute video for non-ESPN reporters on campus.
Murdock first notified Pernetti about the allegations of Rice's mistreatment of players last summer, he said. But he said Pernetti did nothing about the allegations until December, when Murdock said he showed the 30-minute video to Pernetti and several other Rutgers officials.
Pernetti watched the images "in absolute disbelief," Murdock recalled. The video compiled by Murdock included dozens of brief snippets of Rice's interactions with players in practices during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
"You put your [athletic director] shoes on and you witness this video of this coach abusing these players physically, mentally, emotionally -- 99.9 percent would have fired that coach on the spot," Murdock said during an interview at his home last weekend in Bridgewater, N.J. Murdock also said that Pernetti should lose his job for failing to aggressively investigate the allegations and failing to fire Rice.
In March 2010, Pernetti hired Rice, 44, then the head coach at Robert Morris, where television cameras once caught him angrily chasing referees off the court after a game. At Rutgers, Rice just completed the third season of a five-year contract that will pay him $700,000 this coming season. Despite an 11-3 start, Rutgers went 5-13 in the Big East last season and finished 15-16.
Murdock, a Providence College star and a first-round draft choice of the Utah Jazz in 1991, said he had never seen any coach treat players the way Rice treated his players. "I mean, unbelievable to me that somebody would feel that that technique can be successful," he said. "What this guy did the last two years is criminal -- it was criminal."
During the two years he worked for Rice, Murdock said he and the assistant coaches repeatedly urged the coach to try to control his anger with players, but "not much would change."
"Bullying players made him feel better," Murdock said. "If he made a kid feel miserable, he was able to sleep at night better, even though the kid is going the other way and he's not going to be as productive. … He has real anger-management issues. He can't control his temper. … I can't believe that anywhere else in the country it is worse than this -- it's the absolute worst."
But in interviews with "Outside the Lines," six current and former Rutgers players said they found no problem with Rice's coaching techniques. Frank Mitchell, a walk-on who played for Rutgers during Rice's first year, said practices were tough and physical, but players adapted. He said Rice never laid hands on him or cursed at him directly. He transferred to Ithaca College but said it had nothing to do with Rice.
Tyree Graham, who was injured for two seasons but attended practice every day for Rice's team, said that at times Rice "crossed the line," and once the coach hit him hard in the back with a basketball. But Graham, 24, said he understood why Rice used those tactics, because people "disrespected" Rutgers in the Big East and he wanted to simulate opponents' disrespectful attitudes during practice.
"No, I'm not personally offended by it," Graham said in a telephone interview from his home in Durham, N.C. "I was brought up like that. Coming from Durham, North Carolina, you have to have that chip on your shoulder. If you don't, you're not going anywhere. I backed what Coach Rice did for the most part."
But "I can't say it got results," he said. "It didn't work. If those tactics don't work, it should stop."
Robert Lumpkins, who transferred to Rutgers from New Mexico State, said Rice was a passionate coach but he didn't have a problem with his coaching style. Lumpkins said he was surprised to hear Rice was suspended last December. He also said he never heard Rice use the word "f----t" during practices.
Wally Judge, a junior current Rutgers player, had transferred from Kansas State, where he said the practices were harder. He said he didn't think Rice's language was inappropriate, and the coach never put his hands on him.
Mike Coburn, whose last season at Rutgers was Rice's first in 2010-11, said he had no issues with the coach's treatment of players, and because he was a team captain, he took the brunt of it. He said Rice was challenging them to excel and, though he acknowledged how Rice's coaching style may look to outsiders, he said players understood it.
Malick Kone, a player who just announced he is transferring from Rutgers, said he found the practices to be too intense and he didn't like the language Rice used. Malick, who was born in Guinea, said Rice would make fun of how he spoke English and would mock him after Malick would ask for things to be explained. He said Rice threw basketballs at people and could have hurt a player, though he was never hurt. Sophomore Jerome Seagears and junior college transfer Vincent Garrett are also transferring, according to the Newark Star-Ledger report.
Murdock said Pernetti first heard about the allegations of Rice's treatment of players during practice formally last summer, but he chose to do "nothing about it for months."
After seeing the videotape, Pernetti conducted an investigation that lasted less than week before he announced Rice's three-game suspension and $50,000 fine. When Pernetti announced Rice's suspension, he told reporters "it involved some inappropriate behavior and language" between Rice and his players, but he offered few specifics. It is not known whether Pernetti interviewed players or independently reviewed other videotapes of Rice's behavior during practices.
Pernetti also insisted that he had never considered firing Rice. "This is a difficult situation for all of us," he said. "At the same time, Mike understands and signed up for what the Rutgers standard is, which is all about accountability. He understands as he holds his players accountable, I hold him accountable."
When he hired the coach, Pernetti said he knew Rice had a "fiery" personality. "I knew exactly what I was getting and I still know what I've got," Pernetti said. "Mike coaches with an edge. That personality is ideal for our program here in New Jersey. At the same time, there's a Rutgers standard. Everybody who participates in our program at any level, I make clear what that standard is. If something falls outside that standard, he's held accountable."
Murdock has a theory as to why Pernetti didn't fire Rice.
"This is Pernetti's big hire -- he wants this guy to be successful," Murdock said. "I have to believe that 99 percent of the ADs would have fired him -- for him to only suspend him three games and $50,000 you think it's significant -- but watching the video you'd think it was not nearly enough of a penalty."
Pernetti said that Rice would attend anger management courses and "a monitor" would watch his behavior during practice. Murdock said it was unknown whether Rice took the course and that "a secretary from the athletic department" watched the practices.
For his part, Rice told reporters he was trying to control his emotions. "I'm not holding back as far as my energy or my passion or my intensity," he told the New York Post in January. "It's just, I'm being smarter. I'm being more under control. I'm developing as a coach and a teacher. This is going to be the best thing for me."
After Rice's suspension, Murdock said current players had told him there was only slight improvement in Rice's manner during practices. Murdock said that one player was so angry with Rice that he refused to shoot during games during the season's homestretch.
"He came in and he choked the life out of the team -- he took their games and their confidence away," Murdock said.
After this season, Pernetti gave Rice a vote of confidence.
"Of course he's coming back," Pernetti told The Newark Star-Ledger in March. "It's been an interesting year to say the least, and while I think in one case some of the progress -- and there's been a lot of progress -- doesn't show, and that's in the win-loss column. I would like it to show there. I think everyone in the program would. I know Mike and the players would. But you can definitely see us getting better."
Reporter John Barr and producers Justine Gubar and Greg Amante of "Outside the Lines" contributed to this report.
Video of Rutgers University men's basketball practices from 2010-12 shows incidents in which coach Mike Rice hurls basketballs from close range at players, shoves his players, feigns punches, kicks them and screams obscenities and homophobic slurs.