The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

April 7, 2013

Robert Morris will address concerns with Rice era

PITTSBURGH — Robert Morris hopes to address this week allegations of physical confrontations with players and former coach Mike Rice during his three seasons with the Colonials.

Athletic director Craig Coleman could speak on the matter Monday or Tuesday, after the school wraps up an internal investigation looking into the claims, according to a university official.

During Eric Murdock’s interview with ESPN, aired last Tuesday along with the video of Rice’s abusive practices at Rutgers, Murdock pointed out what he had heard about Rice’s tactics at Robert Morris, a Northeast Conference school in suburban Pittsburgh, where he coached from 2007-10.

“It’s amazing to me how he got this far in this profession,” Murdock said, “first of all, because what I understand is at Robert Morris there were five coaches-versus-player brawls in practice.”

Last Wednesday, Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman issued a statement on behalf of his school not long after Rice was fired from Rutgers.

“He is obviously an intense coach, and his passion for the game was mirrored by our student-athletes on the court,” Coleman said. “The behavior on the video is quite unfortunate, but it is not indicative of Coach Rice during his tenure at RMU.”

A star on the rise three years ago after leading Robert Morris to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Rice, 44, now finds himself a flashpoint for what is – and what is not – considered appropriate coaching behavior.

The drive to succeed that made Rice such a success at Robert Morris wasn’t part of a switch that Rice flipped on whenever he entered a huddle. It was always on, regardless of the situation.

Rice once knocked out one of his father’s teeth while they were playing against each other. Former assistant coach Andy Toole, now head coach at Robert Morris, once called Rice “crazed” by the game. Rice went 73-31 in three seasons with the Colonials.

Born in Pittsburgh, Rice spent his childhood by his father’s side, learning the Xs and Os while serving as a ballboy and engaging in lengthy debates over the dinner table. Mike Rice, Sr., was the coach at Duquesne from 1978-82. While in middle school, Rice, Jr., once stood up in the middle of the Duquesne locker room and told the Dukes they weren’t playing hard enough. The players taped him to a training table as a way of thanking him for the pep talk.

In his second tourney appearance, the Colonials snared a No. 15 seed and took second-seeded Villanova to overtime before losing 73-70 in 2010. Under the glare of the national spotlight, Rice showed a bit of the over-the-top behavior that would become his calling card – and ultimately his downfall. He erupted at the officials in the waning seconds of the game, screaming profanities at them as Robert Morris’ bid for the upset fell short.

It was dismissed as a coach getting caught up in the crucible of the tournament. Rice even signed a contract extension later that month, proof of the confidence Coleman had in the direction of the program and the man leading it.

Jimmy Martelli, an assistant coach at Rutgers who resigned last week after the video went viral, was also at Robert Morris with Rice, though it is unclear if he ever witnessed or took part in any of the alleged brawls with the Colonials.

“I am sickened that as an assistant coach I contributed in any way to an unacceptable culture,” Martelli said in a statement last week. “Wednesday, I resigned from Rutgers and I hope that coaches on all levels will learn something important from these events. For my actions, I am deeply sorry and I apologize to the players from the bottom of my heart.”

Rice, who brought Martelli with him to Rutgers in 2010, went 44-51 at the Big East school, and posted just a 16-38 mark in the conference. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season and 5-13 in the league. Incidentally, when Rice was suspended for the video in November – the same video he was fired for last week – Rutgers went 3-0 without him.

 

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