When last we held our noses over Rutgers basketball, the videotapes of coach Mike Rice abusing his players resulted in his firing. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, right, tried to swim into the Sandy of all basketball messes but inevitably failed. Now he’s gone.
By late last week, university President Robert L. Barchi seemed to teeter on the edge of an early retirement too, but he apparently held on after receiving a lukewarm endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who supposedly knows a thing or two about accountability.
Instead, the governor mildly declared on Monday that Dr. Barchi had his “absolute confidence.”
“He should’ve looked at the videotape,” Mr. Christie said in Trenton. “But I do not believe that not looking at the videotape was a fireable offense.”
There you have it, sports fans. By not looking at the videotape of Rice’s rants, by avoiding a viewing, Dr. Barchi apparently saved his job — one that the state’s taxpayers fund. That used to be called the ostrich move. Of course the endorsement that someone has the “absolute confidence” of the person who could fire him is usually the code word for “start packing.”
On top of all this, the assistant coach who apparently provided ESPN with the Rice [right] practice tapes is now under investigation by the FBI, which is trying to determine if the assistant tried to extort money from anyone along the way to keep him from leaking the tapes.
And, in a related thunderstorm, another assistant who probably should have known better, also resigned. Enough tar and feathers were flying, he probably figured he’d get out of Dodge before the citizenry really got angry.
Once again, this is a crisis horribly handled. From the first, when the AD saw the tapes, he should have shown the president and then they should have released the tapes, fired Rice and said they’d do all they could to clean up the mess.
This is New Jersey State, folks; Rutgers is New Jersey’s public university, funded by tuition, grants and taxpayers. Even if the two “leaders” didn’t feel [last fall] that Rice’s transgressions merited his firing, were they thinking at all about how taxpayers paid all their salaries?
And who stood up for the kids, scholarship athletes in the Big East trying to get an education and play ball?
Crisis managers could have sat with the AD or the president on the first day they saw the tapes and plotted out every one of the subsequent moves that would result from their inactions or half steps. Easy. In their sleep.
Instead, the AD and president let it drag over six months and now four people have lost jobs and the state’s colorful, bombastic and presidential hopeful governor could get splattered.
What cold-blooded Republican presidential primary candidate isn’t going to hit Casey for letting this mess fester “on his watch?”
Surely, Pernetti never thought all this would transpire when he first reacted to the Rice tapes. I would wager he won’t make that mistake again, if he ever finds another job.
Yet that fear won’t grow for some time for either Pernetti or Rice. The former is getting a $1.2 million severance package, including two years of health care and a $12,000 car allowance; Rice, meantime, will see a $1 million-plus settlement that will pay for a lot of anger management classes and headhunters to land him his next coaching post.
[Note on how out-of-balance college athletics are: Two men who failed miserably at their jobs receive more money for leaving than most American workers see in a lifetime of successful work].
Makes you wonder if Christie, in determining that the president’s not watching the videotapes was not a firing offense is worried about what the state’s taxpayers would have to pay in Barchi’s severance package.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.