Tim Pernetti announced his resignation as Rutgers’ athletic director on Friday, and in a letter to the university, he said he wished he had overridden school officials and fired basketball coach Mike Rice.
Pernetti’s resignation comes three days after video came to light showing Rice shoving, grabbing, throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice.
“My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the university which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain,” Pernetti said in his resignation letter. “In connection with the incidents involving former basketball coach Mike Rice, as was the case with all other matters which I handled on behalf of the university, I always tried my best to do what is right.”
In the letter, Pernetti went on to say that his position was to fire Rice — although earlier this week he said he was intent on rehabilitating the coach’s behavior, in part, through counseling — but that he apparently didn’t have the support of his superiors. Pernetti, with the approval of Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, initially suspended Rice three games in December and fined him $50,000 when the mistreatment of players was brought to Pernetti’s attention.
“I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the events which led to today,” Pernetti said. “As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved.”
But a Jan. 21 report by an outside counsel hired by Rutgers — John Lacey of Connell Lacey LLP — states that Rice could have been fired then: ” … due to the intensity with which Coach Rice engaged in some of the misconduct, we believe AD Pernetti could reasonably determine that Coach Rice’s action tended to embarrass and bring shame or disgrace to Rutgers in violation of Coach Rice’s employment contract with Rutgers.”
Barchi, like Pernetti, has come under heavy criticism for allowing Rice to remain on the job as coach for as long as he did. He announced at a campus news conference that John B. Wolf, Rutgers’ interim senior vice president and general counsel, also has resigned his position. Barchi is “highly likely” to remain with the university, a source told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.
“At the end of the day, he has to run this place, day in and day out,” Ralph Izzo, chairman of the school’s board of governors, said. “And I think he is the right person to run this place for many years to come.
“Dr. Barchi was brought on here eight months ago with two primary objectives: No. 1 was to build a strategic plan for this university for 10 years, going forward, to lead us to academic success and academic greatness; and No. 2, an enormous challenge of integrating a medical school with this university. Being on the job two months, hearing from a general counsel and the athletic director that there was a serious problem, I think he did the right thing by acquiescing to that advice at the time.”
Barchi reiterated Friday that he had not seen the videotape until this week. Had he seen it in November, he said, he would have recommended that Rice be fired. He said Pernetti gave him a summary of what was on the Rice video at the time. When pressed, he said that in retrospect he should have asked to view the tapes. Sources told ESPN that at least three Rutgers board members did view the video of Rice last year and they agreed with the suspension and fine as punishment.
“This was a failure of process. I regret that I did not ask to see this video when Tim first told me of its existence,” Barchi said. “I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers.
“I also apologize to the LGBT community and all of us who share their values for the homophobic slurs shown on that video. I personally know how hurtful that language can be.”
Based on the summary he received from Pernetti, Barchi said he “agreed with and supported his recommendation to suspend, rather than fire, Coach Rice at that time. It was not until Tuesday evening of this week, when I watched the video, that I had the opportunity to witness personally for the first time what Tim had seen last fall.”
“I was deeply disturbed by the behavior that the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be. As Tim acknowledged on Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate, rather than fire, Coach Rice was wrong.”
Wolf is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December. Barchi said Friday that he would appoint an interim athletic director in the coming days.
Pernetti’s departure follows his firing of Rice on Wednesday and the resignation of assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, who also was seen on tape treating players in a like manner. The video was obtained by “Outside the Lines” and aired on ESPN on Tuesday.
More than 50 Rutgers faculty members had signed a letter calling for the dismissal of Pernetti for his handling of the Rice situation. Eric Murdock, the former director of player development for the Scarlet Knights, told “Outside the Lines” that he spoke with Pernetti in June and November about Rice’s mistreatment of players. Murdock, whose contract wasn’t renewed by the coach and AD last July, also told ESPN that he was not contacted beyond his November discussion with Pernetti and other university officials.
Murdock told “Outside the Lines” that Rice’s “outrageous” behavior had caused at least three players to transfer from the team.
Murdock, as promised, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university on Friday in Essex County, N.J. ESPN reported on Thursday that Murdock’s attorney, Raj Gadhok, sought $950,000 from the university in December as a settlement.
Read more: ESPN