MSG/ESPN NY's Jon Rothstein is saying that the search for the next Rutgers men's basketball coach is a coin flip between Fran Fraschilla and Mike Rice. However, Pittsburgh sportswriter John Perrotto tweeted Friday night that Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice Jr. is leaving for Rutgers. There is still no confirmation of any sorts on the New Jersey/New York side of things, but Perrotto is connected in Pittsburgh. I certainly believe now that Rice's camp is saying that the job is his, in spite of any public denials.
I agree with Brian Dohn's reading of all this (the article is not behind a paywall when I linked to it, let's hope that doesn't change). Fraschilla supposedly had a commanding lead, and the Rutgers side was dismissing Rice's overeager politicking and desperation, and now momentum appears swinging in the other direction. That could definitely be the result of Rice's unending media spin. Doesn't seem like a great fit considering how the Tim Pernetti regime values keeping privileged info close to the vest.
Perrotto mentioned about how bad losing Rice would be for RMU, and he's indeed performed ably enough there to earn a promotion to an Atlantic-10, CAA, or MAAC-level program. My chief concern with Rice as a candidate is that Robert Morris is a low-major, by virtue of being in the Northeast Conference. This isn't readily apparent when you follow the Big East and assume that all "Big Six" conferences are tiered on a similar hierarchy. The Northeast is a good feeder conference for green candidates like Danny Hurley that want to get their feet wet in the college game, but is a far away from the Big East that ate Fred Hill alive night after night for the past four years.
Since leaving Pittsburgh's bench, Rice is 50-18 at RMU, including three tournament appearances. That level of performance was a significant upgrade over his predecessor Mark Schmidt. Rice clearly deserves some kind of promotion (hence interviews several months back with Fordham and Seton Hall), and offers a level of promise absent from a total retread candidate like a Tim Welsh. However, his lack of experience is too risky of a proposition for a basketball program trying to climb up from rock bottom. It represents an act of desperation by both parties.
If Mike Rice Jr. is the next coach, then that is a sad acknowledgment that the Rutgers men's basketball program is stuck between a rock and a hard place for the time being. While Rice looks like a pretty bad hire, it's easy to surmise athletic director Tim Pernetti's decision making process here. Of the interviewed finalists, Al Skinner clearly had the best track record. There may have been some concerns, but not everyone agreed there, and maybe he'd agree to keeping a Darren Savino-type assistant on staff to help with recruiting.
After how Fred Hill's tenure ended, I could see why Rutgers would steer clear of Fraschilla (who had not one, but two similar ugly departures). Really, that would be learning the wrong lesson from how Hill left though. The problem wasn't so much temperament, but inexperience leading to consistent and sustained losing. Rice also has his own issues with sideline demeanor.
When it comes to basketball, Robert Morris coach Mike Rice has no mercy.
He once knocked his father Mike Rice Sr.'s tooth out during a game of four-on-four. Robert Morris no longer holds staff pick-up games because Rice tends to get a little too excited, aggressive or -- as he calls it -- competitive. Besides, he pulled his calf muscle during a game at the beginning of the season and has been out of commission since.
"When basketball is involved, he is 150 percent over the top with doing everything possible to win," Robert Morris assistant Andrew Toole said. "He's crazed by the game."
Gee, this all really DOES looks like the soccer coaching search now. If Rutgers truly could not entice a more attractive option for MBB, that would vindicate the initial decision not to fire Hill. Although, it's hard to believe that RU could not have done better months ago. If no one else really wanted the job, and costs were a pressing concern, then Rutgers should have gone with a builder certain to leave the program in a better position down the road. If better names are interested, then there's no sense in going forward when there's a good chance of having to conduct another search in a few years.
Rice offers more upside than a strategy of pure risk aversion, but also the non-zero possibility that he'll be Fred Hill III, and spectacularly implode down the line for similar reasons. The fear here is that Rice agrees to come on at bargain basement salary, there's no impetus for RAC upgrades, and men's basketball goes on the permanent backburner for an athletic department chasing the Big Ten's football dollars.
Between the thin resume, and one of his major selling points being the support of New Jersey's influential AAU basketball coaches (one of his assistants is from Red Bank and worked Rice at The Hoop Groop, another is Phil Martelli's son), it's hard to look at Mike Rice Jr. and not see a carbon copy of Hill. If Rice is the hire, then he deserves a clean slate, but I am fearful that Rutgers isn't looking for more of Fred's diametric opposite. Any new coach deserves a two-year honeymoon for base rebuilding, but is Rutgers men's basketball really going to make the NCAA Tournament within the next five years? If not, then the new hire will get thrown to the wolves just like Bannon, Waters, and Hill were.
Unfortunately, the best that can be realistically hoped for is that things eventually stabilize to the point where the new coach's immediate successor has a reasonable chance to win. By all means, give whoever it is a chance, but this is no time for optimism. I'm not going to get excited over recruiting classes or anything other than on-court success after getting burned by Hill. As insane as this is in a high school basketball Mecca like New Jersey, let's just set expectations low enough at the start to where any positive sign moving forward will be gravy.