Colin Dunlap: Rice Let Many Down
PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — In full disclosure, I know Mike Rice well.
In full disclosure, I’d love to sit here, write this column and find a way to exonerate him.
In full disclosure, I just can’t bring myself to do it.
No way, no how.
Not after what was on those tapes.
But I think it’s fair to offer some perspective.
Rice, the former coach at Rutgers, should be the former coach at Rutgers. He should have been fired earlier this week — and probably sooner — for practice behavior that included pushing, grabbing and throwing balls at players. If that aforementioned behavior is a few feet over the line, another tactic — using gay slurs during practice toward players — is a mile over what should be accepted.
Again, Rice is out of a job and should be, let’s be perfectly clear about that.
Rice’s behavior was the snowball that started downhill and took other casualties with it; assistant coach Jimmy Martelli and athletic director Tim Pernetti.
Who knows where this will all end for Rutgers.
Those are the facts, the nuts and bolts.
Here’s something else from my vantage, and this is from observation and a relationship that I have with the man: The Mike Rice I saw on those tapes isn’t a person I know.
Not at all; not in the least.
The Mike Rice I know is a guy who rides his players as hard as any coach I’ve observed, but never once crossed the line in the countless hours I watched him interact with student-athletes. See, in a former existence, I covered Rice’s Robert Morris teams as part of my duties for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Rice had an open policy with the media; in short, practices were wide open.
Did Rice cuss — and probably too much? — sure. But let’s get something straight here, if coaches in collegiate football and basketball were fired for using vulgar language, there would be about three coaches still employed.
The Mike Rice I know — and this memory is vivid — is a man who cried almost-uncontrollably when speaking with me, privately in his office in 2009, about former Robert Morris player Bateko Francisco.
Francisco was born in Angola, escaped civil war there to Zaire with his mother and siblings while his father went to Paris to make money for the family. Francisco eventually spent time homeless in Paris before making his way to the United States.
I will never forget Rice telling me, again through heavy cries, how Francisco was an idol to him.
And Rice meant it.
The Mike Rice I know is also a man who called me the day he accepted the Rutgers job. I tried to chat him up about the opportunity he was about to face commanding a Big East basketball program.
Rice wanted none of the conversation, instead steering the talk, again and again, to the direction of his wife Kerry, son Michael and daughter Katie. He was intensely worried about having to acclimate them to a new community in New Jersey, telling me, repeatedly, “they love their friends in Fox Chapel, I hope I’m not being selfish.”
The Mike Rice I know is a guy who woke me with a text the early morning of this past July 9, it is still in my phone and reads, “Literally crying. Did you hear about Pete Sauer? He died. Life’s unfair, man. He was a great guy. This one hurts. Hug your twins.”
The text was, obviously, in response to the untimely death of former Shady Side Academy and Stanford basketball star Peter Sauer, who collapsed and died playing basketball at 35.
All that makes this so quizzical to me, makes seeing what I saw on those Rutgers practice tapes shake my head.
Never once can anyone — even his staunches supporters — conclude that Rice should still have his job, that Rice wasn’t totally in the wrong.
But in offering some perspective, in knowing the man deeper than the vast majority of this country who only knows what they see as a demon on those practice tapes, I think I’ve been able to arrive at what I think happened.
Perhaps this is an elementary way to put it, maybe making a very complex issue too simple, but from my vantage, Mike Rice is a good man who committed some inexcusable actions.
I’m not going to let the inexcusable actions trump the good man I know Rice sincerely is; and I’m not going to let the good man Rice sincerely is excuse away those indefensible acts.
To me at least, there’s room for both.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org