04/19/2010 9:31 PM ET
Rice would be perfect fit at Rutgers
Current Colonials coach has vote of legend Bob Hurley
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Robert Morris coach Mike Rice is said to have great passion and be a great leader. (AP)

Ask legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley who should replace Fred Hill at Rutgers and he doesn't hesitate.

"Mike Rice," Hurley said unequivocally. "I hope they look at Mike Rice."

Rice, 41, has led Robert Morris to back-to-back Northeast Conference tournament titles and NCAA appearances. The Colonials are 73-31 on his watch over the last three seasons. He did recently sign a one-year contract extension through the 2016-17 season, but if offered a Big East job he would have to consider it.

"I think he would be the guy that could win there," said Hoop Group president Rob Kennedy, Rice's old boss at that organization. "He's a personality that's going to fight windmills every day and he can do that. If they [Rutgers] don't think that there's a reason why they haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, there are some windmills there that you've got to fight. You've got to have toughness, tenacity and passion to fight through those windmills and Mike's got that laser-beam focus that he can do that every day."

Hill resigned Monday and accepted a buyout of between $800,000 and $850,000, according to The Star-Ledger, which cited two sources with knowledge of the deal. He was due $1.9 million, including bonuses, over the final three years of his contract. The school initially offered him a $600,000 buyout after his profanity-laced tirade during an April 1 Rutgers baseball game and subsequent defiance of his boss's orders to avoid future baseball games.

Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti said he couldn't comment on the settlement. He added that his goal is to land a new coach "as soon as possible...It's all that I'm going to work on until it's done."

Because the Hill situation dragged on for so long, Fran McCaffery (Iowa), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), Tom Pecora (Fordham) and Steve Donahue (Boston College) are all off the board after recently taking new jobs.

Eddie Jordan, Fran Fraschilla, Jim Baron, Jim O'Brien and even Bob Knight have been mentioned as potential replacements for Hill, who went 47-77 (13-57 Big East) in four seasons as coach.

Yet can any of them match Rice in terms of his connections in the New York/New Jersey/Philly corridor or his recent on-court record?

Hurley said that the new staff would need to have strong bonds with head coaches in New Jersey, especially those at St. Anthony, St. Patrick, St. Benedict's, Paterson Catholic and Seton Hall Prep.

Rice clearly fits the bill.

A former Hoop Group camp director and assistant at St. Joe's and Pitt, Rice has deep recruiting ties.

"North Jersey, Philly and New York City is a hot bed of recruiting. It was when I was hired away from St. Joe's to Pitt. They wanted somebody that did North Jersey to Philadelphia. Besides my experience at the Hoop Group, I had my St. Joe's ties and Philly ties," Rice said before his team fell to Villanova in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kennedy compared Rice to a young Greg Schiano, who turned the Rutgers football program from a laughingstock into a perennial Top 25 outfit.

"If you ask any of the key people in New Jersey high school grassroots football who Greg Schiano was, they all knew him," Kennedy said. "He was a big name in the community that was most important in building a program, and that's the high school community.

"Mike Rice is proven that he can coach but what he also is, is a guy that comes in and has instant recognition in the community that's most important if they were going to rebuild this thing. And that's within the grassroots basketball community, high school and AAU. There's not anybody who doesn't like Mike.

"Much like Greg Schiano, he's a workaholic. He has great passion and he's a great leader."

Rice drew some criticism after the Villanova game when he got fired up on the sideline because of the tight whistle the referees gave his team.

But he's no Bobby Gonzalez -- he of the seven technical fouls and explosive personality -- as some have suggested.

"If you talk to anybody, he is not Gonzo," Kennedy said. "Anybody who knows him.

"Is Mike passionate? Is Mike excitable? Is Mike a guy that coaches with his emotions on his sleeve? You're darn right he does. If that something that scares somebody off, then Jay Wright couldn't coach at Villanova, Bobby Huggins couldn't coach at West Virginia, Jim Calhoun couldn't coach at UConn

"If you're going to coach you've got to have some passion to you."

Speaking of Wright, he had plenty of good things to say about Rice during the tournament.

"His teams are very disciplined," Wright said during the NCAAs. "You can see offensively, they've got some great concepts. We're going to steal some for next year.

"And you can see he's really, really thought out a philosophy behind how his team plays and it's well taught."

Whoever takes over at Rutgers won't have a lot to work with.

St. Benedict's Prep senior forward Gilvydas Biruta has already asked for his release from Rutgers and said he plans to move on.

The current NCAA contact period ends Wednesday, meaning whoever takes over will have missed this entire recruiting window.

With the transfers of sophomores Mike Rosario (Florida), Gregory Echenique (Creighton) and Patrick Jackson (undecided), the program now has just eight scholarship players left.

"They're down to a roster next year that's not a very good roster," Hurley said.

"They've got to go out and get a couple guys. They can't just sign guys. They've got to be able to sign guys who can play in the Big East."

Give Mike Rice the opportunity and he can make it happen.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
Write a Comment! Post a Comment