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Pitino, Boeheim on Rice: No other coach would do that

ATLANTA — Mike Rice's actions hang like a dark cloud over the opening media sessions for the Final Four, working their way into press conference questioning and drawing the ire of the four coaches still standing in the NCAA tournament.

With the video leaking out of the Rutgers' basketball program capturing Rice physically and verbally abusing players in practice sessions — throwing basketballs, going off on expletive-laced tirades, shoving and tossing players — there was a certain sadness present in the tone of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Michigan's John Beilein.

Those actions, even in some minor capacity, overshadow the coaching world, the same one they, along with Louisville's Rick Pitino and Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, are at the pinnacle of at the moment.

Following Rice's firing and the subsequent scrutiny of the athletic department's handling of the situation, broader questions are being asked about the coaching profession: How rampant is this type of behavior in collegiate athletics? How might this incident change the landscape of college coaching? And can Mike Rice, the 44-year-old coach who carried out his narcissism for three seasons at Rutgers, really be the only one acting out with such unchecked behavior?

"I absolutely do not believe there's that coaching style going on. I do not," said Boeheim, who is vying for his second national title in Atlanta. "I'll go out where you probably shouldn't go. I don't think there's a coach in the country that does that."

Beilein, a 35-year veteran of the college coaching community, agreed: "I think all the coaches in the community are disappointed at how that transpired.  I don't know Mike Rice well enough. I don't know the athletic director (Tim Pernetti) enough. But I know that in this day and age, there's certain lines you're not going to cross with your student‑athletes. "Those incidents are uncalled for, and I'm sure that Mike regrets it. … It is not representative how Division I coaches in football or basketball represent themselves in practice."

Pitino also labeled Rice's behavior a very serious, but isolated incident.

"I don't think there's a coach alive that does that, what you witnessed. I don't think you have to worry about that. I've never seen it in my life," Pitino said. "As I've said, for eight years I went around and watched college practices.  I've seen guys who were very tough on their players, but they don't physically throw balls at them, they don't physically do those things"

The Rutgers basketball situation once again brought out the accusations of the "softening" of our nation's sports, but each of the Final Four coaches concurred that there is no room for such violent, derogatory behavior in any gym — at any level.

Boeheim, who considers himself a long-time acquaintance of Rice, said he watched 10 seconds of the video.

He couldn't watch any more.

"You know, I get verbal. I'm on players. I don't like to curse; I do curse sometimes," Boeheim said. "You get out of control, just things come out when you're in the heat of the moment. But you can't touch a player other than just on the shoulder or something, and you certainly can't push 'em and grab 'em or throw something at 'em. I have thrown a ball, and it's usually up in the stands, and last time I hurt my arm, so I don't throw them anymore."

Much like Boeheim describing his mellowing out as a head coach, times inevitably change. But if Rice does prove to be a rare, if not singular, instance, what is there to change for coaches and their interactions with players? Rice is fired, out of coaching, presumably for quite some time — at least that was Pitino's stance on Thursday afternoon.

So what will be the lasting effects?

Boeheim joked that basketballs will still be thrown in gyms across the country in moments of frustration, but that the Rutgers video will give coaches pause, to stop and consider their actions.  This is the technology age. Public figures — and that is precisely what coaches are in this billion-dollar industry — are on the proverbial stage every public moment, or so it must be assumed.

Not even private practice tapes are secure if a coach oversteps the necessary boundaries protecting college athletes.

"You know, obviously today with the videos anywhere, we have to be cognizant, whether I'm at a restaurant, whether I'm going to the bathroom, whether I'm going anywhere, there could be a video, walking out, how I treat an autograph, there could be a video. That's life right now," Beilein said. "Yeah, there's moments where you coach a kid up and you tell him a few things that he probably needs to hear. But for the most part, people teach. That's how we've always done it. Maybe we're 'soft', but we just teach."

Rice completed his Rutgers career with a 44-51 record, with 38 losses coming in Big East play to the likes of Boeheim and Pitino. Beilein coached against him while Rice was an assistant at Pittsburgh. There is a connection between the majority of the Final Four's head coaches and the nationally disgraced one now answering for his actions.

However, as Boeheim pointed out, there's also a certain irony in the disconnect and distance between Rice and his more successful colleagues.

"I think the tragedy is his team would have played exactly the same or better if he hadn't done any of that," Boeheim said. "If he never threw a ball, if he never touched anybody, his team would have played better, in my experience."

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