Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mike Rice Farewell Tour

Tonight marks the start of Big East play for Syracuse, as they welcome Rutgers to the Carrier Dome. The game also marks Rutgers Head Coach Mike Rice's return to the bench after serving a three-game suspension handed down by RU Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti back on December 13th. Rice was suspended without pay and fined $50,000 for foul language and inappropriate behavior, which included throwing basketballs at players' heads. Nice.

For those that have read Daily Onions over the last few years know we are not a huge fan of Rice or his sideline antics. In addition to observing him over the years, we also had the opportunity to work along side Rice at a few basketball camps several years ago. Rice comes off as a high energy, motivated and passionate guy - all things you would want as a coach. He also comes off as arrogant and cocky. Take the good, take the bad, I guess.

After stints as an assistant for St. Joe's and Pitt, Rice got his shot to lead a program at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. In his three years there, he compiled a record of 73 wins and 31 losses. He also earned NCAA berths in his final two years, taking the two seed, Villanova to OT before losing in the opening round of the 2010 tournament. That impressive showing punched Rice's ticket to getting a shot at a BCS conference job.

His time at Rutgers has been highlighted by three victories over top-10 teams in the past two years (Villanova, Connecticut and Florida). While those wins impressive, Rice and the Scarlet Knights have mustered just 5 and 6 wins in the Big East conference during his first two seasons.

Will Mike Rice Change his Ways?
While this is the final year for the Big East as we know it, it also needs to be the final year for Mike Rice as Rutgers head coach. Whether it's getting tossed from a game in the first half for arguing with officials, throwing basketballs at players during practice or ripping into a 19-year old by cursing him out on national television during a game, Rice has shown behavior that has no place in coaching, no matter the level.

When I first read of the suspension, I commended Pernetti for taking that action. A three game suspension and $50,000 fine amounts to about a quarter of Rice's yearly salary, which shows Pernetti wanted to send a message. Others I spoke with thought Rice should have been fired immediately, because it's obvious that Rice's inappropriate behavior was an ongoing issue, not just an isolated event.

With the direction Rutgers University is heading - another solid football season that nearly ended with a BCS bowl berth and the upcoming move to the Big Ten Conference - they cannot afford to have a liability like Rice on the sideline. Yes, Rice was bringing in players and the past two seasons he was coaching one of the five youngest squads in the country.

But when you are trying to build a brand around a basketball team, you don't want the face of the program or the lasting impression of the program, a maniac coach on the sideline.

I'm not questioning whether or not Mike Rice cares about his players. I know he does. He wants them to win and wants them to be successful. That's what we want our coaches to do. However, there is a right way to do that and a wrong way to do that.

Rice says he's learned his lesson and I hope he has. I just don't know if you can flip a switch to turn on and off the passion, or at least channel that passion into a positive, acceptable behavior.

Tonight as Rice returns, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim looks to move into sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list. Ironically, if Boeheim can take care of the hot-headed Rice and Rutgers tonight, he'll move ahead of another coach that had a few flare ups on the sideline, Bobby Knight.

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