Rutgers players defend fired basketball coach Mike Rice

April 4, 2013 at 8:36 AM ET

Rutgers alumna Natalie Morales interviews former basketball player Sean Bannon, who says he never felt threatened by coach Mike Rice.

Current and former Rutgers University basketball players are coming to the defense of fired head coach Mike Rice as the school continues to deal with the shock surrounding his dismissal.

The players say the explosive videos showing Rice shoving, grabbing and berating players with gay slurs do not give the full picture of all the characteristics of his coaching style.

“They also don’t account for all the other things that go on in our program,” player Austin Johnson told TODAY’s Natalie Morales, herself a Rutgers alumna. “Coach Rice has done a lot for me and my family.”

Frank Franklin Ii / AP file /
Rutgers head coach Mike Rice during an NCAA college basketball game March 12, 2013, in New York.

During a visit to her alma mater, Morales spoke with other students on campus about the fiery behavior that led to Rice’s firing Wednesday as the Scarlet Knights head coach. Rice has since apologized, saying in a statement that “I clearly did not treat these outstanding young men ... with the respect they deserve."

Sean Bannon, a former basketball player, said he never felt endangered while working with Rice. “Not at all, and I think the large majority of the players felt the exact same way I did,” he said. “I don’t think we were ever really uncomfortable or felt threatened.”

The controversial videos originally were shown last fall to Tim Pernetti, the university’s athletic director, and led to a fine and a three-game suspension. University president Robert L. Barchi said he was told about the behavior at the time, but had not seen the videos.

“Yesterday I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said in a statement Wednesday. “I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively.”

But some faculty members question whether Barchi and other university administrators knew about the severity of Rice’s behavior and then tried to hide it from the public. A dozen of them have signed a letter petitioning the school’s board of trustees to force the president’s resignation.

New Jersey state lawmakers also say they plan to investigate why Rice wasn’t fired months ago.

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