Changing lives or crossing the line?


By now, many people around the world have viewed footage of former Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice’s controversial coaching style. Rice was fired Wednesday after ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” released video of Rice kicking, hitting, throwing balls and verbally abusing his players over a three-year period.

This topic has raised an interesting question for sports debaters around the world. How far is too far, and how many other programs have coaches with similar coaching styles?

Let me be the first to say I’m all for a coach who is hard on players and not one to coddle or babysit. But there are certain lines that cannot and should not be crossed. College basketball is a billion dollar business, and it is the coach’s job to get his players to perform to their maximum abilities.

Every player responds to tough coaching and criticism in different ways. Some players respond better when spoken to in a more calming tone whereas other are motivated by coaching that is more aggressive. But when coaching reaches physical and verbal abuse, a serious line has been crossed.

In 2009, Mark Mangino resigned as head coach of football at Kansas University in the midst of physical and verbal abuse accusations by several Jayhawks players. Mangino had previously quit a high school coaching job after parents complained of harsh language toward the team’s players.

In 2010, former Texas Tech University head football coach Mike Leach was fired when he was asked to apologize for his treatment of red-shirt freshman wide receiver Adam James.

James claimed Leach locked him in a dark shed during practice a day after James suffered a concussion. Leach was fired on Dec. 30. Leach is the winningest coach in Texas Tech history.

Indiana University’s legendary coach, Bob Knight, was canned in September 2000 after numerous physical altercations with players. Since, Knight has coached at Texas Tech from 2000-08 and became an ESPN studio analyst and color commentator. Knight won 902 games and three national championships. Maybe winning does cure all problems.

But unlike Knight, Rice was 44-51 in three years at Rutgers. If Rice had a more successful career, he would have no problem being forgiven and might have another shot at coaching a few years down the road. But the way the media scrutinizes those who make mistakes in today’s age, it would take a miracle for Rice to return to coaching.

I am in no way defending Rice. His actions were despicable and are unnecessary for the game of basketball or any sport. He was rightfully fired and should be forced into counseling. I just believe he is not the only guilty party. Players leave their families behind and travel the country to attend schools. The coaching staff is supposed to protect and mold these student-athletes into men.

I believe the passion for the game is so potent on both sides. Players are willing to break through brick walls for their coaches, and the coaches are willing to do what it takes to get the best out of their players. But throwing balls, using verbal slurs and physically attacking players is unacceptable behavior. This situation should be used as a major lesson for all collegiate and amateur programs alike. Hopefully this will be the last case of a situation like Mike Rice and Rutgers.