Those clips didn't get Mike Rice fired as much as the reaction did
The video clips from those practices were awful and embarrassing, but they're not what got Mike Rice fired from his job as Rutgers basketball coach on Wednesday.
The clips from those practices were awful and embarrassing, but they're not what got Mike Rice fired Wednesday. Not exactly, at least. Because Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti saw those same clips four months ago and chose only to suspend his men's basketball coach. Left to Pernetti, the pushing, shoving, grabbing, cussing, ball-throwing and gay-slurring would've remained a story addressed (to some degree) and buried in 2012.
But it wasn't left to him.
Outside the Lines made sure of that.
So the video was made public Tuesday afternoon, and Pernetti appeared on TV to discuss the matter. In an eight-minute interview with Jeremy Schaap, Pernetti repeatedly talked about moving forward and never hinted that Rice would be -- or should've been -- fired because of what appeared in those clips the world was now watching.
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I predicted Rice would be fired, still.
Because I realized what was about to happen, i.e., the same thing that happened to Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Penn State's Joe Paterno and Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, just to name a few other fallen coaches. The court of public opinion has always been strong. But it's stronger than ever now because of the 24-hour news cycle and impact social media can make. So when Twitter caught hold of the Rice video, that was the beginning of the end, and the end was never going to be too far away from Tuesday afternoon.
Not with LeBron James weighing in on Twitter.
And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weighing on Twitter.
And literally millions of people from all over weighing in on Twitter.
Remember, Tressel, Paterno and Pearl each had a boss just like Rice had a boss, and those bosses all initially stood by their coaches, too -- none more famously than Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who was asked if his school would fire Tressel after allegations of NCAA violations. He then uttered the words, "I hope he doesn't fire me."
That was a stupid thing for a college president to say in any era.
But it was especially stupid in this era.
Because while Gee was standing by his coach, the nation via social media was turning against Tressel just like it had earlier turned against Pearl and would later turn against Paterno. At first, all three coaches were safe. But they couldn't survive the new-age court of public opinion that allows hundreds of influential people and millions of others to repeatedly render verdicts that shape the way any nationally relevant story is perceived.
That's among the reasons why Pernetti's decision to only initially suspend and fine Rice was wrong and short-sighted. Pernetti presumably asked himself in November, "Is this punishment going to be enough to teach my coach a lesson?" But here's what Pernetti should've been asking himself in November: "When this tape goes public -- because it's absolutely going to go public -- how will it be perceived by the masses? And will the public's response to this pushing, shoving, grabbing, cussing, ball-throwing and gay-slurring be so overwhelming that I'll have to fire my coach then?"
Those are the questions every AD should ask himself during a time of turmoil: 1) How will the public react when the public knows what I know? 2) Should that alter what I think I ought to do right now? 3) Could standing by this person cost me my job?
Had Pernetti asked himself those questions in November, he would've known, right then and there, that merely suspending Rice would never be enough. Then he would've fired Rice and looked like a strong leader and protector of young men who refused to tolerate abuse even if it meant terminating a coach midseason. As it is, Pernetti looks weak, and now folks are also calling for his job, and that can't possibly be fun. For now, Pernetti seems safe. But I genuinely don't believe he should be safe. And if that opinion picks up steam on Twitter, well, watch out. Because these days it's possible to survive an inexplicable act, but the reaction to that act will get you almost every time.
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