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Don't Hate Fred Hill Jr.

As much as I am relieved that he will never again coach a single game for Rutgers basketball, and horrified at the sequence of events that has unfolded over the past week, I still think it's important to separate those hard feelings from any personal assessment of Hill. Yes, he is hurting the basketball program by taking a hard line in negotiations over his contract buyout; any end of this nature is bound to painful. It's a divorce, and breaking apart any family has a good chance of being painful and heart wrenching.

Make no mistake about that last point. Hill is as ingrained as it gets into the Rutgers athletic department and New Jersey basketball. That's what separates him from Gary Waters, Terry Shea, or any other former coach at the university. They just saw Rutgers as yet another rung on a ladder, a momentary stepping stone to bigger and better things. Hill sincerely did view Rutgers as a homecoming and a destination. With all of the best intentions in the world, he truly believed in Rutgers when not many others would.

Freddie indeed does deserve the axe for the futility of the past four years, and that's what any head coach should expect. As badly as he did fail in that regard, there's plenty of blame to go around. Most of the Rutgers athletics community was on board with elevating Hill four years ago, despite his glaring lack of experience. If Rutgers didn't, Seton Hall would have. We all envied his recruiting at Seton Hall and later Villanova. We all fantasized about keeping the Garden State's best prep talents at home, and living vicariously through their success for our own personal validation for investing so much sheer time over the years.

Fred Hill Jr. gets that. He dared to dream what we all did (and so did his players), and ultimately failed about as well as you or me would have in the job. His biggest failing of all is that he loved Rutgers too much, in the way that a fan does, and that's why he ended up a failed head coach instead of perhaps the finest assistant coach in the Big East. He put it all on the line for Rutgers, and as a result will soon be out of a job, with limited future career prospects. It's a bitter pill to swallow, and a painful and vivid endorsement of the need for cynicism.

As much as Hill's firing is necessary to end this madness, and start the latest round in a seemingly endless cycle of rebuilding, it's not a development that I take any pleasure in savoring. Fred Hill Jr. is a good person, but he failed, to a spectacular and nearly unprecedented level. He failed for the right reasons though, making no apologies necessary. Accept it and move on, because what's needed more than anything right now is a fresh start and a complete clean break from the bitterness of the past decade and a half of Rutgers basketball. I cannot justly hate Fred Hill today, or tomorrow, or ever, because those feelings must fairly be reflected back on each and every person calling for his head.

No, what should be done is to celebrate and thank Fred Hill Jr., in this particular respect anyway. As much bad as there was, there are snippets of his legacy worth preserving. Vindicate his vision and make him a prophet by turning Rutgers basketball into a winner. Prove Hill right, and maybe then will everyone's resentment will fade with time and cooler heads will prevail.