RMU probe reveals 2 incidents with former coach Rice

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

A Robert Morris University investigation revealed two accusations against former men's basketball coach Mike Rice during his three-year tenure, but the allegations failed to rise to the level that led to Rice's firing at Rutgers University last week, athletic director Craig Coleman announced Tuesday.

Coleman said he started the investigation when Eric Murdock, Rutgers' former director of player development, alleged Rice engaged in brawls with players while Rice was Robert Morris head coach from 2007-10.

Rutgers fired Rice when a video showed him physically and verbally berating players in practice.

After Coleman determined an investigation into Rice's behavior at Robert Morris was warranted, he said he sought players who didn't like the way they were treated.

“Let's bias the sample,” Coleman said of the five-day study 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 one individual spoke of physical altercations between Rice and his coaches and the players. One unidentified 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 said. The former player said the basketballs were not thrown at anyone's head, and he said he didn't remember whether they hit anyone, Coleman said.

The former player said he witnessed Rice and a second player shoving each other in the locker room during halftime of a game. Coleman said that other player, when confronted with the allegations, was “vehement that it didn't happen. … 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.' ”

Efforts to reach Rice on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Rice's firing at Rutgers occurred when Murdock released practice tapes to ESPN showing Rice shoving and cursing at Scarlet Knights players and throwing basketballs at them. Coleman said he has spoken with Rice, who labeled Murdock's charges concerning his behavior at Robert Morris as “bogus.”

“This may be as close as we can get to the truth of what was experienced here five years ago,” Coleman said in a statement before a late-morning news conference. “Despite a vast majority of evidence refuting these suspicions, we feel duty-bound to report fully what we have learned. We are distressed to hear about even one account of inappropriate behavior toward any of our players. Whether corroborated or not, we must use this as an opportunity to reaffirm that RMU does not — and will not — tolerate abusive behavior. We will continue to do all that is possible to ensure that players and coaches act and are treated with mutual respect going forward.”

Coleman took notes during the 17 interviews, some conducted in person and others by telephone, school spokesman Jim Duzyk said. The Tribune-Review requested copies of Coleman's notes, but the request was denied.

Coleman said school officials will conduct more internal investigations to ensure that what happened at Rutgers doesn't occur at Robert Morris. The school routinely performs such examinations, Coleman said, 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. Robert Morris' practices already are open, but Coleman suggested that increasing the frequency of recording practices might deter poor behavior.

Robert Morris records only those practices that occur before the first preseason scrimmage.

Robert Morris men's basketball coach Andy Toole, who was hired by Rice and succeeded him, was not available for comment and did not return phone messages.

“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,” Coleman added. “If Andy hasn't figured out that he has to make sure everything is good (surrounding his program), then no one will.”

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

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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