TRENTON, N.J. – Rutgers officials are scrutinizing practice videos of all sports to see if any coach engaged in behavior like the type that cost men’s basketball coach Mike Rice his job, the university president announced Monday.
The inquiry into Rice and how university officials responded is also going deeper as the school announced that it plans to hire a consultant to conduct an independent review.
University President Robert Barchi, speaking Monday during a town hall meeting on the school’s Newark campus, said he wants any instances of bullying or homophobic language to be reported immediately.
He also reiterated that he wished he had viewed the video where Rice — whom Gov. Chris Christie on Monday called an “animal” — shoved players and called them gay slurs when it first surfaced in November, saying he would have fired Rice then.
Rice was fired last week only after the video became public. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, an assistant basketball coach and the university’s top lawyer also resigned last week, while some Rutgers faculty members and others called for Barchi to step down, too.
On Monday, Christie defended Barchi’s performance while blasting Rice’s behavior. He also criticized the reaction of those who knew about it and did not fire the coach months ago, when the video was given to university officials and viewed by — at least — Pernetti, university interim counsel John Wolf and Chairman Mark Hershhorn of the university Board of Governors’ athletics committee.
“They were wrong not to come to the conclusion that Coach Rice needed to be fired immediately,” Christie said at a news conference.
In a statement released by his lawyer late Monday, Hershhorn said he did call for Rice’s firing on the day in early December that he watched the video. He said he told Pernetti that if the video was authenticated, Rice needed to be immediately terminated. Contrary to his recommendation, Hershhorn said, the university chose to discipline Rice instead of let him go.
The Rutgers administration would not comment on Hershhorn’s account of events.
While the governor had issued statements previously, it was the first time Christie took questions about the scandal at the state’s flagship public university. The Republican governor added that had he been aware of the issues earlier he would have used his “power of persuasion” to try to get Rice fired then.
He said he viewed the video not only as a governor but as the father of a college athlete. His son Andrew plays baseball at Princeton.
“You’re talking about kids being miserably treated by the guy who determined whether they keep their scholarship or not,” Christie said. He said the video cost the coach his credibility with young athletes and their families.
“What parent would let this animal back into their living room to try to recruit their son after this video?” he asked.
Christie said it was a mistake for Barchi, who took office in September, not to watch the video last year when he first was told about it. But he said that leaders of large organizations must delegate some matters and that the mistake was not a firing offense.
It was Pernetti’s job to know what the coach was doing, Christie said. According to a settlement the university provided to The Associated Press on Monday, Pernetti is receiving $1.25 million as he departs, along with perks ranging from health insurance for more than two years to a $12,000 annual car allowance until next year and his university-issued iPad.
Rutgers announced Monday that it was commissioning an independent review of Rice’s conduct and the way the university responded to it. The board of governors will meet Thursday to discuss the review.
Also, board chairman Ralph Izzo said that while one board member – Hershhorn – had seen the video in December, it was not shown to other members. The topic of the coach’s conduct was discussed at a committee meeting in December, but it was not discussed at the full board meeting that month.
Before hearing Hershorn’s account, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney called on Hershorn to resign.
“Any trustee or member of the board of governors who witnessed the tape at any point before it was publicly aired, and took no action, should be removed or resign immediately,” he said in a statement.
The scandal has prompted the FBI to investigate whether a former Rutgers basketball employee asked for money from Rutgers in exchange for not making the videos public, a person familiar with the investigation told AP on Sunday.
Asked about the FBI inquiry on Monday, Barchi said the agency wasn’t called but came “on their own.”
As the investigations mount, Christie said he did not believe that state lawmakers should have an inquiry of their own, saying Rutgers is investigating and that holding hearings would “continue reputational damage” to the school.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who has called for hearings, said “the taxpayers, students, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and other constituents” deserve to know what happened.
Meanwhile, Rutgers is turning to former dean Carl Kirschner to run its athletic department on an interim basis while it conducts a search for someone to take the job permanently.
It’s the second time that Kirschner will run the program. He took over at the start of 2009 after Robert Mulcahy was fired, and held the role for four months, stepping down when Pernetti took over.