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New Jersey governor backs Rutgers president in coaching scandal

Rutgers Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice reacts during the first half of their NCAA men's basketball game against the Syracuse Orange in Pisc
Rutgers Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice reacts during the first half of their NCAA men's basketball game against the Syracuse Orange in Pisc

By David Jones

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday said the president of Rutgers University made a mistake but not a fireable one when he left it to aides to view videos of the men's basketball coach physically and verbally abusing players.

A firestorm of criticism surrounding Robert Barchi, president of the largest public college in New Jersey, intensified on Monday as students at a town hall meeting on the Newark campus demanded his resignation in the scandal surrounding basketball coach Mike Rice.

A jeering crowd of hundreds of faculty and students hoisting signs reading "Give Barchi the boot" booed as he addressed criticism that under his leadership, the school put athletics before academics.

He also attempted to fend off questions about how the school tolerated coach Rice's homophobic slurs against players in the wake of another Rutger's scandal - the 2010 suicide of gay freshman Tyler Clementi after his roommate spied on his romantic liaison.

ESPN sports network last week broadcast videos of coach Mike Rice throwing basketballs at players' heads and berating them with homophobic slurs during practice.

The videos first came to Rutgers in November and Barchi delegated subordinates to view them. The university subsequently suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000.

The recent ESPN broadcast touched off an uproar among students, faculty and fans that cost Rice and three other school officials their jobs.

Christie at a press briefing on Monday called Rice an "animal" who needs anger management training. Still, Christie said, Barchi's decision not to view the videos himself when they first became available in November was a "mistake," not a fireable offense.

"He relied upon the people who worked for him," Christie said. "You can not micro-manage every issue, and he had an experienced athletic director in charge of direct supervision of Coach Rice. He also had his lawyer, the general counsel, who reviewed it for him, and recommended for him, based on what they had seen, the appropriate action."

At the town hall meeting, Barchi acknowledged he made the wrong decision last fall.

"Do I regret that I didn't look at the video myself? Absolutely," he told the angry crowd.

Since Rice's ouster, three other officials have left: Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, interim University General Counsel John Wolf, and Assistant Coach Jimmy Martelli.

Rutgers on Monday announced the appointment of Carl Kirschner, a former dean at Rutgers, as interim athletic director, and the formation of a search committee for a permanent replacement.

Christie focused his criticism on Pernetti, saying his resignation was necessary.

"This conduct apparently was going on for three years under Mr. Pernetti's supervision," Christie said.

Rutgers, meanwhile, promised to commission an independent review of how the school handled allegations that its men's basketball coach physically and verbally abused his players, Rutgers officials said.

"It is our intention to move quickly with this review," Barchi and Ralph Izzo, the chairman of the school's board of governors said in a statement.

Christie said the scandal has damaged the reputation of the 58,000-student university.

"It's significant. You know, you spend a week's time being on top of the national news about your coach using homophobic slurs, screaming and yelling at players, basically assaulting them -- that's not a good week," Christie said.

(Additional reporting by Dave Warner; Writing by Scott Malone and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by John Wallace and Andrew Hay)

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