(NEW YORK) — In his first television interview since the scandal that cost him his job six months ago, former Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice said he has learned from his mistakes and is now a changed man.
“I won’t be perfect moving forward, but I’ve changed,” Rice told Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts in an interview for ABC’s 20/20. “Having that taken away, your dream job…and having it done in such a visible way…and hurting the people closest to me…it changes a person.”
Rice, 44, was fired by the New Jersey university on April 3 as a result of a quickly unfolding scandal that began when ESPN’s Outside the Lines aired footage of the coach being abusive to his players. The images showed Rice pushing players in the chest, grabbing them by their jerseys, yanking them around the court, and even hurling balls at their heads and groin. Rice could be heard screaming obscenities and vulgar language at players, including “f—ing f—-t” and “fairy.”
“My first reaction, when I saw the tape was one of embarrassment, of shock, of sadness,” Rice said.
Some of the harshest criticism against Rice came because of his use of anti-gay slurs — already a touchy subject at Rutgers. In 2010, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life after he discovered his roommate had secretly used a webcam to watch his intimate encounter with another man in their dorm room.
Rice told Roberts that his use of homophobic language was “idiotic,” because, he said, “I wasn’t thinking that I was shouting at Tyler Clementi, or anybody else, who was a gay or a lesbian.”
Born into a family tradition of toughness and competitive drive, Rice said he was raised among several family members with Division 1 athletic scholarships, state champions, and hall of fame members. His own father had the distinction of being the only NBA announcer to be ejected from a game for arguing a call.
After coaching his way to a three-year winning streak at Robert Morris University, Rice was hired by Rutgers as head coach under the pressure to help get its basketball team out of last place.
“The media were calling us the leftovers,” Rice said. “It was the leftovers and the inexperienced coach from a small school in western Pennsylvania, so I had a chip on my shoulders.”
At the time, Rice said he believed he could change Rutgers’ basketball program, but he admitted to Roberts that he wasn’t ready.
“I thought it was necessary to get my team or that individual…to be tougher,” said Rice.
Rice had already been reprimanded for his toughness once before at Rutgers, prior to the release of the footage that led to his termination. Tim Pernetti, Rutgers University’s athletic director at the time, sat him down after a basketball game with the University of Louisville, where he received two technical fouls and was escorted off the court for his temper from the sidelines.
“‘You’re embarrassing You’re such a good coach. Why would you embarrass yourself and insult the university?'” Rice recalled Pernetti’s warning.
However, unknown to Rice, his disgruntled assistant coach Erik Murdock was secretly watching hundreds of hours of video of Rice’s practices, editing together a clip reel of his temper tantrums on the court. Murdock gave the tape to Rutgers officials and threatened to make it public, asking for $950,000.
In response, Rutgers suspended Rice in December 2012 for three games, with fines and lost income that amounted to $75,000. Rice was ordered to get anger management counseling, which he has voluntarily continued.
Though he agreed that he would at times lose his self-control at practices, Rice said, “two minutes after that or two minutes previous to that I’m high-fiving and cheering. It could be the same person that I did that to. I would…be chest-bumping literally two minutes later.”
While he says he doesn’t want to make excuses for his behavior, he believes the few minutes of videotape that went viral is not representative of his true character as a person or as a coach. Off the court, he says his players did better in school and almost every player graduated during his two-year tenure.
Months after he was suspended, the offensive footage was leaked to the media, causing a firestorm of controversy and condemnation for Rice and Rutgers, who then fired him under the pressure. Rice said the most difficult part was owning up to his family and communicating to them that this was no one’s fault except his.
“I don’t think people realize that they’re all a part of it,” he said.
Since the scandal, Rice said he has also apologized to his former players.
“You know, whether it was texting, whether it was calling, whether it was, handwritten letters, whether it’s email, they don’t deserve this and especially the first year’s team,” he said. =”Even though we were out-manned every single night, they really, really fought hard for me…and they’re almost embarrassed about that fact now. They’re embarrassed about being a Rutgers basketball player.”
He continued, “It’s an incredible place…and it hurts, again, for me to be the reason why it’s not looked upon as well as it should.”
Hoping to learn from his mistakes and repair his reputation, Rice reached out to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), where he said it was a wake-up call when a girl told him that his past behavior made him no better than the bully who once made her cry.
“That was a hard lesson learned that’s for sure,” said Rice. “There is going to be a different message. There is going to be a different Coach Rice.”
Rice also spent five weeks of therapy in Houston with former NBA player John Lucas, who runs a treatment and recovery center for athletes.
“You’re not going to completely change the perception…because that’s going to be who Mike Rice is, a small percentage of it,” Rice said.
“And again, it’s not about making excuses. It’s about learning from them. It’s about sharing those mistakes with other coaches, and hopefully one day, if I do want to coach again, having an opportunity…That’s what it’s about,” he added.
Watch Robin Roberts’ full interview with former Rutgers coach Mike Rice during ABC News’ 20/20 on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 10 p.m. ET.
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