Rutgers has opted for Mike Rice as its new head coach. Rice got a lot of publicity when Robert Morris came close to stunning Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Rice was named to replace Fred Hill, who worked diligently in the world of recruiting. Unfortunately, Hill did not post the necessary W's to excite the Rutgers faithful. He went 44-77 in four seasons with the Scarlet Knights
and school officials planned on bringing him back for another season, but ultimately other issues influence the decision to let him go.
There was a confrontation with the University of Pittsburgh baseball coach at a game where his father, Fred Sr., was managing the Rutgers baseball team. Athletic director Tim Pernetti asked Hill Jr. to skip the baseball game between Rutgers and Pittsburgh the next day, but Hill did not not obey that request. The rest, my friends, is history.
In three seasons under Rice's tenure at Robert Morris, the Colonials went 73-31 (.702), including a mark of 46-8 (.852) against Northeast Conference opponents. His team won three straight Northeast Conference regular-season championships, including outright titles in 2008 and 2009 (the program shared the 2010 championship with Quinnipiac). This past season, the Colonials gave Villanova a real scare in the first round of the Big Dance, impressing many.
I know a bit about Rutgers. I was an assistant there in the early 1970s, and I can give some advice to the new coach. If you think you will be mediocre, then it will happen. If you think you can be special, you can help make it happen.
After all, why shouldn't Rutgers be special? It is a state university and they have the ammunition to compete for the best players in New Jersey. I remember when I arrived there, people said we couldn't get the best players. We did not believe that, and we worked hard, landing the likes of Phil Sellers and Mike Dabney en route to a Final Four appearance in 1976. The Scarlet Knights were unbeaten going into that Final Four under Tom Young. Yes, we played in a place that was often called a barn, but that did not deter us!
My time there played a big part in me getting the head coaching job at the University of Detroit, and I will never forget the solid seasons we had there.
Quite frankly, there are players who can succeed at Rutgers. You can sell the idea of playing in the Big East. Why not sell a school with a great academic reputation? They have a desire to be one of the best.
It will not be easy for the new hoops coach. The cupboard has been emptied with the transfer of guard Mike Rosario to Florida. There will be a honeymoon period and Rice's team will take a few lumps. Maybe Rice should sit down with football coach Greg Schiano and discuss the winner's mentality that has helped put Rutgers football back in the spotlight.
Eventually they will expect positive results. Pernetti did a good job bringing in a new coach with energy and enthusiasm. He can attack the problem with the mindset of getting the job done.
Patience, however, will be a vital virtue for Mike Rice. His first year will be difficult but, down the line, the true evaluation of where they go will be based on their recruiting in the next two years. They have the Big East to sell and that is a positive force in the mind of many student athletes.