Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti resigns

  • ESPN.com news services | April 9, 2013

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Tim Pernetti announced his resignation as Rutgers' athletic director Friday, and in a letter to the university, he said he wished he had overridden school officials and fired basketball coach Mike Rice.

Pernetti's resignation comes three days after video came to light showing Rice shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice.

"My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the University which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain," Pernetti said in his resignation letter. "In connection with the incidents involving former basketball Coach Mike Rice, as was the case with all other matters which I handled on behalf of the University, I always tried my best to do what is right."

In the letter, Pernetti went on to say that his position was to fire Rice -- although earlier this week he had said he was intent on rehabilitating the coach's behavior, in part through counseling -- but that he apparently didn't have the support of his superiors. Pernetti, with the approval of Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi, initially suspended Rice three games in December and fined him $50,000 when Rice's mistreatment of players was brought to the AD's attention.

"I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the events which led to today," Pernetti said. "As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice's behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved."

But a Jan. 21 report by outside counsel hired by Rutgers -- John Lacey of Connell Foley LLP -- states that Rice could have been fired then: " ... due to the intensity with which Coach Rice engaged in some of the misconduct, we believe AD Pernetti could reasonably determine that Coach Rice's action tended to embarrass and bring shame or disgrace to Rutgers in violation of Coach Rice's employment contract with Rutgers."

Pernetti will be paid more than $1.25 million for resigning as part of a settlement, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Friday. Pernetti also is still eligible to receive any bonus based on the success of Rutgers teams' athletic, financial or academic goals. He also gets to keep his laptop, iPad and car stipend until 2014, and his medical benefits and pension until 2015.

Rice's contract will pay him more than $1 million.

Barchi, like Pernetti, has come under heavy criticism for Rice's remaining on the job as coach for as long as he did. He announced at a campus news conference that John B. Wolf, Rutgers' interim senior vice president and general counsel, also has resigned his position. Barchi is "highly likely" to remain with the university, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.

"At the end of the day, he has to run this place, day in and day out," said Ralph Izzo, chairman of the school's board of governors. "And I think he is the right person to run this place for many years to come.

"Dr. Barchi was brought on here eight months ago with two primary objectives: No. 1 was to build a strategic plan for this university for 10 years, going forward, to lead us to academic success and academic greatness; and No. 2, an enormous challenge of integrating a medical school with this university. Being on the job two months, hearing from a general counsel and the athletic director that there was a serious problem, I think he did the right thing by acquiescing to that advice at the time."

Barchi reiterated Friday that he had not seen the videotape until this week. Had he seen it in November, he said, he would have recommended that Rice be fired. He said Pernetti gave him a summary of what was on the Rice video at the time. When pressed, he said that in retrospect, he should have asked to view the tapes. Sources told ESPN that at least three Rutgers board members did witness the video of Rice last year and agreed with the suspension and fine as punishment.

"This was a failure of process. I regret that I did not ask to see this video when Tim first told me of its existence," Barchi said. "I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers.

"I also apologize to the LGBT community and all of us who share their values for the homophobic slurs shown on that video. I personally know how hurtful that language can be."

Based on the summary he received from Pernetti, Barchi said he "agreed with and supported his recommendation to suspend, rather than fire, Coach Rice at that time. It was not until Tuesday evening of this week, when I watched the video, that I had the opportunity to witness personally for the first time what Tim had seen last fall.

"I was deeply disturbed by the behavior that the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be. As Tim acknowledged on Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate, rather than fire, Coach Rice was wrong."

Wolf is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December. Barchi said Friday that he would appoint an interim athletic director in the coming days.

Pernetti's departure follows his firing of Rice on Wednesday and the resignation of assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, who also was seen on tape treating players in a like manner. The video was obtained by "Outside the Lines" and aired on ESPN on Tuesday.

More than 50 Rutgers faculty members had signed a letter calling for the dismissal of Pernetti for his handling of the Rice situation. Eric Murdock, the former director of player development for the Scarlet Knights, told "Outside the Lines" that he spoke with Pernetti in June and November about Rice's mistreatment of players. Murdock, whose contract wasn't renewed by the coach and AD last July, also told ESPN that he was not contacted beyond his November discussion with Pernetti and other university officials.

Murdock told "Outside the Lines" that Rice's "outrageous" behavior had caused at least three players to transfer from the team.

Murdock, as promised, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university Friday in Essex County, N.J. ESPN reported Thursday that Murdock's attorney, Raj Gadhok, sought $950,000 from the university in December as a settlement.

Gov. Chris Christie issued a statement Friday calling Pernetti's resignation "appropriate and necessary given the events of the past six months."

"I commend President Barchi for his decisive leadership in coming to an agreement with Mr. Pernetti to have the Athletic Department of Rutgers University come under new leadership," he said. "This entire incident was regrettable and while it has damaged the reputation of our state University, we need to move forward now on a number of fronts which provide great opportunities for Rutgers' future."

The state university of New Jersey also is in danger of losing some of its biggest donors in tough economic times. Friday ended with some of Rutgers' biggest backers threatening to stop writing checks because they were upset Pernetti was forced out for not firing Rice when he first became aware of the video.

Tom Mendiburu, whose High Point Solutions paid $6 million for the naming rights to the university's football stadium, tweeted that he was concerned, saying he made the deal because of Pernetti.

"We've invested so much into #RU and now I'm not even sure who we turn to. Very sad day and I'm sorry Pernetti had to go through this," he tweeted.

Mendiburu said a lot of people are asking him what he is going to do -- and he isn't sure.

The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Daniel Wheeler, a founding member of the Society of Queens College, was upset that Rutgers ignored prominent donors' pleas to keep Pernetti. Membership in the society, which bears the name under which Rutgers was chartered in 1766, requires a minimum of $1 million donated to the school.

"I won't say numbers, but I've given over seven figures, and like a lot of people who have done the same, I support Tim Pernetti," Wheeler told the newspaper.

Last month, Sports Business Journal named Pernetti one of its five finalists for athletic director of the year. It appeared he would survive this incident based on his past accomplishments at the school.

A 1993 Rutgers graduate who was hired as Rutgers' AD in April 2009, Pernetti was instrumental in Rutgers moving from the Big East to the Big Ten Conference for 2014. Because of the move, Rutgers will increase its media rights revenue from about $3 million annually in the Big East to more than $40 million annually by 2017, sources said.

"It's really sad. Obviously, that conduct is way, way out of bounds, " Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "It was unacceptable. It's sad that Tim was separated from Rutgers. I don't really know all the details. ... Obviously, there's accountability there. Institutions hire coaches and they terminate them, and really it's not an area we're involved with."

Delany said the Big Ten learned about Rice's situation only after the video aired, and didn't know the reason behind Rice's initial fine and suspension.

"I just assumed $50,000 and a three-game suspension must have been serious, but beyond that, I don't have any detail," Delany said.

The firings will not affect Rutgers' transition to the Big Ten, the conference announced Friday.

"There's no impact on their transition to membership," Delany told ESPN.com. "These issues are sort of personnel issues. These are strictly local issues, and institutions are expected to handle them, and Rutgers is handling them. Maybe not in the way they should have initially. They would acknowledge that they probably came up short, but as long as people cure the problems that they have when they come up with them, I don't know that you can do much more."

Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, called for Pernetti to step down or be fired. Sweeney said Pernetti deserved credit for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten but he mishandled what Rice had done within the program. Pernetti hired Rice away from Robert Morris, which he led to two NCAA tournament appearances, in the spring of 2010.

"This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come," the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement Thursday. "It seems pretty clear that things were not handled well from the start."

However, some prominent former Rutgers football players wanted Pernetti to remain.

NFL All-Pro running back Ray Rice said that when he returned to campus recently after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in February, Pernetti's main message was positive and inspirational -- he wanted Rice to complete his degree.

"That was what he wanted," Rice told The Star-Ledger. "He was telling me that to be a true pillar at Rutgers, I needed to graduate. He wanted me to register for some online courses so I can get that done. I mean, I just won a Super Bowl, and that's what he wanted!"

Former defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed as a result of injuries sustained in a 2010 Rutgers game, also backed Pernetti.

"When you're in a situation like I have been for the past 2½ years, you truly see the character of people," LeGrand told The Star-Ledger. "Tim Pernetti has shown me and Rutgers how great of a person he really is, and how much he really cares."

On Friday, after learning of Pernetti losing his job, LeGrand tweeted, "Heading up to RU in support of Tim Pernetti to talk to some media. #KeepTimPernetti the things this man has done for me is indescribable."

Information from ESPN College Insider Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com senior writer Don Van Natta Jr., ESPN.com college football reporter Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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