In his first television interview since the scandal that cost him his job six months ago, former Rutgers University men's basketball coach Mike Rice said he has learned from his mistakes and is now a changed man.
"I won't be perfect moving forward, but I've changed," Rice told "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts in an interview for ABC's "20/20." "Having that taken away, your dream job...and having it done in such a visible way...and hurting the people closest to me...it changes a person."
Rice, 44, was fired by the New Jersey college April 3 as a result of a quickly unfolding scandal that began when ESPN's "Outside the Lines" aired footage of the coach being abusive to his players. The images were shocking, showing Rice pushing players in the chest, grabbing them by their jerseys, yanking them around the court, even hurling balls at their heads and groin. Rice could be heard screaming obscenities and vulgar language at players, including "f---ing f----t" and "fairy."
"My first reaction, when I saw the tape was one of embarrassment, of shock, of sadness," Rice said.
Some of the harshest criticism against Rice came because of his use of anti-gay slurs, already a touchy subject at Rutgers. In 2010, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life after he discovered his roommate had secretly used a webcam to watch his intimate encounter with another man in their dorm room.
Rice told Roberts that his use of homophobic language was "idiotic," because, he said, "I wasn't thinking that I was shouting at Tyler Clementi, or anybody else, who was a gay or a lesbian."
Born into a family tradition of toughness and competitive drive, Rice said he was raised among several family members with Division 1 athletic scholarships, state champions, and hall of fame members. His own father had the distinction of being the only NBA announcer to be ejected from a game for arguing a call.
After coaching his way to a three-year winning streak at Robert Morris University, Rice was hired by Rutgers as head coach under the pressure to help get its basketball team out of last place.
"The media were calling us the leftovers," Rice said. "It was the leftovers and the inexperienced coach from a small school in western Pennsylvania, so I had a chip on my shoulders."
At the time, Rice said he believed he could change Rutgers' basketball program, but he admitted to Roberts that he wasn't ready.
"I thought it was necessary to get my team or that individual... to be tougher," said Rice.
Rice had already been reprimanded for his toughness once before at Rutgers, prior to the release of the footage that led to his termination. Tim Pernetti, Rutgers University athletic director at the time, sat him down after a basketball game with the University of Louisville, where he received two technical fouls and was escorted off the court for his temper from the sidelines.
"'You're embarrassing. You're such a good coach. Why would you embarrass yourself and insult the university?'" Rice recalled Pernetti's warning.