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RMU: Former player says Rice shoved player, used homophobic slur

Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice coaches Dallas Green during the NEC quarterfinal game against St. Francis at the Sewell Center in Moon. File photo

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 8:54 a.m.

When Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman decided to conduct an internal investigation of former basketball coach Mike Rice's time at the school, he intentionally sought players who didn't like the way they were treated.

As it turned out, Coleman's probe uncovered that Rice's tenure at Robert Morris from 2007-2010 wasn't spotless, but two allegations against him failed to rise to the level that led to his firing last week as head coach at Rutgers.

“Let's bias the sample,” Coleman said of his recently concluded five-day probe that included interviews with 17 current and former coaches, players and support staff. “Our goal was not to make it look good. If something happened, we wanted to find out. Kids who left might be more likely to reveal something.”

Coleman said all but one of the people interviewed revealed no evidence of physical altercations between Rice and his coaches and players.

One former player, who left Robert Morris while Rice was there, said the coach directed homophobic slurs toward him and “once or twice” threw a basketball at another player.

Coleman refused to identify the first player, but he said the basketballs were not thrown at anyone's head and he didn't remember if they hit anyone.

The player also said he witnessed Rice and another player shoving each other in the locker room during halftime of a game.

When confronted with those allegations, the player was “vehement that it didn't happen,” Coleman said.

“And he was very upset that anyone might suggest that, if he had been pushed, he wouldn't have decked the coach. He said, 'I remember we were screaming at each other, but nobody touched anybody,' ” Coleman said, recalling their conversation.

Coleman's probe was in response to former Rutgers director of player development Eric Murdock's allegations that Rice told him there were five “coaches-versus-players” brawls at Robert Morris. Murdock also released Rutgers practice tapes to ESPN that showed Rice shoving and cursing at players and throwing basketballs at them, actions that directly led to Rice' firing.

Coleman said he has spoken with Rice, who labeled Murdock's charges concerning Robert Morris as “bogus.”

The next step, Coleman said, is for school officials to conduct further internal investigations to ensure that what happened at Rutgers won't occur at Robert Morris.

He said the school routinely polices itself in that manner, including after the Virginia Tech shootings and the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State.

“Are we doing everything we can do to prevent that from happening here?” he said. “Do we have mechanisms in place to respond to it?”

“We are doing that not because one of 17 kids said something happened, but because it's just what we do if something happens at another campus.”

He said he believes schools, including Robert Morris, will more closely monitor their programs. He added that one of the solutions might be to increase the videotaping of practices. Presently, Robert Morris tapes only those that occur before the first preseason scrimmage.

Robert Morris basketball coach Andy Toole, who was hired by Rice and immediately followed him, was not available for comment and did not return phone calls to the Tribune-Review.

“I know Andy totally disapproves of what he saw on that (Rutgers) video,” Coleman said. “He is trying to stay out of this because he has some level of gratitude toward Mike and some level of discomfort of what he saw on the video.

“Andy may be the most intelligent basketball coach in the country,” he said. “If Andy hasn't figured out that he has to make sure everything is good (surrounding his program), then no one will.”

Asked if other coaches might be more careful about what happens at their practices, Coleman said: “I hope so. Anybody who isn't smart enough to do that, I wouldn't want to employ.”

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