By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – For over two decades, Mike Rice has asked his players to develop, change, and attack their weaknesses. For the past two weeks, he’s begun doing that himself.
“Now I have this opportunity to do that,” Rice said after returning to practice for the first time since his three game suspension due to his language and behavior.
The third-year head coach conducted a 40 minute shoot around with his team – where he didn’t use profane language and the only time he raised his voice was after the the team broke the huddle and he exclaimed “get extra shots” – before spending 18 minutes talking to the media.
He vowed several times that he will grow and change from the experience and ultimately become a better person.
“Whether it’s the teaching methods, whether it’s the discipline, I’ve thought about it a lot with the way I do things, the formula in which I do things, and well I’m going to use it as a positive,” Rice said. “I’m going to change. I’m going to develop some of the things that I’m going to work on, whether it’s the language, whether it’s the behavior, I’m going to develop those things.”
One way he’ll do that is by going to anger management classes and having a monitor at practice to document how he interacts with his players. A collaborated idea that stemmed from Rice himself.
“I brought it up to make sure they [Rutgers] know that I’m all in with this,” Rice said. “There’s no avenue that I’m not going to look towards to improve it.”
Something Rice knew as soon as the suspension was handed down. But it really hit him three days later.
While he spent much of the 16 days with his family, including going to his son’s and daughter’s basketball games and Christmas shopping with his wife for the first time, he couldn’t join his wife Kerry and kids Mike and Katie when they headed to the UAB game.
“The worst part of it was when my family was going to come and watch the UAB game and I couldn’t go,” a visibly choked up Rice said as tears welled in his eyes. “It took some strength. They wanted to be there for the kids and the team. If that’s not going to change me, I don’t know what will.”
In turn, Rice hopes the difference in his demeanor will alter the public’s view of him.
“There’s a perception of me and then there’s what I really am,” Rice said. “And I kind of have to kind of change that perception.”
Which he knows is easier said than done. Especially when the athletic department’s investigation revealed that he threw basketballs at player’s heads.
“I did this to myself and there’s no one else to blame, and so if someone thinks negatively of me, all I can do is try and change that and not by talking to you people…it’s about my actions,” Rice said. “What I do daily with practice and what I do with my team and that’s truly what’s going to count and matter.”
If he does that – along with Rutgers winning – Rice will be able to hold onto his job. And hopefully achieve what he set out to do when he first came to Piscataway, all the while changing his ways in the process.
“I want to develop. I want to get better,” Rice, “I want to be here and have NCAA banners and successful banners because not only did my team improve, but so did Mike Rice.”