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Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti fired in wake of Rice scandal

10:45 AM, Apr 5, 2013   |    comments
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Tim Pernetti (APP.com)

PISCATAWAY, NJ (Asbury Park Press) - Tim Pernetti is expected to be removed as Rutgers Athletics Director, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because it hasn't been announced.

It's not clear whether Pernetti will be fired or forced to resign, but the university is expected to hold an afternoon press conference Friday to announce the decision.

It will mark the first time Rutgers officials will speak publicly following the fallout from the videotape scandal involving former men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired Tuesday when ESPN aired a report that included highlights of three years of practice images depicting Rice physically and verbally abusing his players.

RELATED | Amid abuse backlash, Rutgers fires coach Mike Rice

After the tape surfaced Tuesday, Pernetti vigorously defended his handling of Rice. He was grilled on ESPN's Outside the Lines shortly after the program aired the video montage, which showed the coach throwing and kicking basketballs at players, shoving players and hurling bleeped-out expletives at them, including gay slurs.

The explosive video clips were compiled and leaked by Rice's former director of player development, Eric Murdock, whose contract was not renewed last June. They were cut from practice footage over Rice's first two seasons.

But in announcing Rice's firing Wednesday, Pernetti admitted his decision to suspend Rice for three games and penalize him with $75,000 in fines rather than fire the first major coach he hired "was wrong.''

"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,'' Pernetti said. "Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was itn the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong.''

Pernetti's marks a precipitous fall for someone who seemingly had as much job security as any of his peers just four months ago when he shepherded the university's bank-breaking move into the Big Ten Conference.

His dismissal is sure to spark fury among Rutgers boosters, sports fans and prominent alumni, like Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and paralyzed former Scarlet Knights lineman Eric LeGrand, both of whom lent their names to a growing grassroots movement to save the embattled athletics director.

"When you're in a situation like I have been for the past 2 ½ years, you truly see the character of people,'' said LeGrand on Twitter. "Tim Pernetti has shown me and Rutgers how great of a person he really is, and how much he really cares.''

But while Pernetti drew a legion of supporters when news first surfaced Wednesday that he was fighting for his job, with thousands of fans campaigning on Facebook and Twitter, the 42-year old Oakland, Bergen County, resident came under fire from all corners of the media and New Jersey state government.

"For the good of the school, its students and its faculty, he should either resign or be removed from his position immediately,'' New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney said Thursday. "This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come. It seems pretty clear that things were not handled well from the start. ... Mr. Pernetti deserves recognition for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten. But we have to ask if that effort clouded his judgment on this matter. Either way, it is clear that he must go.''

Gov. Chris Christie kept mum on the issue other than a statement released by his press secretary, Michael Drewniak, on Tuesday that rebuked the athletics department.

"Governor Christie saw the video (Tuesday) for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,'' the statement read. "It's not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University."

It's not known who will serve as Rutgers' interim athletics director, and it's not clear who will be overseeing the search for a new men's basketball coach. David Cox, who was on Rice's staff as an assistant, was named Rutgers' interim head coach in the wake of his boss' firing.

Pernetti was in the fourth year of a five-year deal signed in February 2009. His contract calls for a $410,000 annual base salary, up to $50,000 in additional compensation, and a $12,000 annual automobile stipend as well as free-travel perks for his family.

 

It's not clear whether the university is on the hook for his salary, but Pernetti's contract contains a clause that states he can be terminated "for cause'' for "conduct tending to bring shame or disgrace to the university as reasonably determined by the president.''

Pernetti apparently won't be the only Rutgers official who is removed from his position as a result of the leadership demonstrated over the Rice incident. According to a source, John B. Wolf, Rutgers' interim senior vice president and general counsel who is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December, was forced to resign from his position late Wednesday night and it's not clear whether he will remain at the university in some capacity.

In addition to Rutgers' legal counsel, Pernetti hired an independent investigator - John Lacey of Connell Foley LLP - upon receiving the Rice practice tape Nov. 27.

"I don't think we could've spent any more time investigating the matter than we did," Pernetti said Tuesday. "What I did ask the investigators to do was investigate but not make a recommendation on sanctions. I made that decision on my own. Once we had come to a conclusion, I met with the investigators and asked them for input on the penalty. And they felt very much that it was in line with what was discovered over the course of the investigation."

Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi, who has refused to address the media other than issuing a statement to announce Rice's firing, signed off on Pernetti's decision in December but Rutgers officials acknowledged he never actually received a copy of the video for review until Tuesday morning, just hours before it was aired on ESPN and went viral.

"When video excerpts of basketball practices were reviewed last fall by Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, he immediately notified me and sought the advice of internal and outside counsel,'' Barchi said in a statement Tuesday. "The university hired an independent investigator to look into this matter thoroughly. Based on the external investigator's findings and recommendations, Tim and I agreed that Coach Rice should be suspended, penalized $75,000 in fines and lost salary, ordered to undergo anger management counseling, and put on notice that his behavior would be closely monitored. Tim Pernetti also made it clear to Coach Rice that there would be zero tolerance for additional infractions. Tim kept me fully apprised and I supported his actions.

"(Tuesday), I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability. He cannot continue to coach at Rutgers University. Therefore, Tim Pernetti and I have jointly decided to terminate Mike Rice's employment at Rutgers.''

Pernetti's ouster marks a precipitous fall. A lifelong New Jerseyan, he played football at Rutgers before graduating in 1993 and is married to a former Rutgers lacrosse player. He served as a color commentator on the Rutgers Football Radio Network and held executive posts at CBS before becoming the university's sixth director of intercollegiate athletics in 2009.

Taking over for Bob Mulcahy, whose regime was heavily criticized for spending excesses, Pernetti was credited with reining in the athletic department's budget.

That credit turned to soaring praise in November, when Pernetti helped Rutgers earn a spot in the expanding Big Ten starting in the fall of 2014. The move is projected to increase Rutgers' athletic revenues eightfold and got the Scarlet Knights out of the Big East just as it was falling apart.

But at the same time, away from the public eye, he was commissioning an investigation into the Rice video. After careful deliberation and consultation with Rutgers' attorneys and the investigator, who interviewed all of the current players, Pernetti decided against firing Rice.

(Asbury Park Press)

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