In The New York Times, our pal Jonathan Mahler has a great profile of disgraced ex-Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice. You probably remember Rice as the crazy guy in this video, the one firing basketballs at his players' heads and calling them faggots. Now, Rice is on the well-trod path that every disgraced public figure walks when looking for redemption, and his journey is an interesting look at what happens when a college basketball coach tries to become a real person.
Mahler's story paints Rice as someone who was more coach than man. He's the guy who used to harangue his basketball coach father's players from the bench at age 12. He's the guy whose coaching tactics at Rutgers were full of hollow clichés:
Rice also came up with a motto—a philosophy, really—to help guide practices: "Comfortable in Chaos." The concept was borrowed from the Navy SEALs, whose training assumes that the game plan has been scrapped and that they are in trouble. As Rice saw it, going up against teams like Georgetown and Syracuse was the basketball equivalent of a combat mission gone awry. He wanted practices to be more demanding— more hellish—than the games themselves. "Get ready for the chaos," he'd say as his players stretched out and warmed up.
This is a man who had fully abstracted himself from the real word, getting lost in the land of coach-speak and overcooked intensity that most college coaches spend at least part of their lives existing in. Rice, seemingly, spent his whole life there. But now he is trying to come out of that world, and he is of course being helped by athlete recovery guru John Lucas. The highlight of the story, which you should absolutely read, comes when Lucas makes Mike Rice cry in a Ruby Tuesdays:
"I make him talk to me about the fears," Lucas said.
"What are those fears?" I asked.
"I'm not good enough," Rice said.
"The fear that he won't get another job," Lucas said. "How long is everything going to be, Mike Rice, disgraced ex-Rutgers coach?"
Lucas gestured at Rice, whose eyes were red and swollen with tears. "Look at the pain he's in right now. He can't forgive himself. . . . If you can't see he's human and genuine, you're missing it. Here's somebody that's truly remorseful, that's trying to get everything back in a day, and I'm trying to tell him that that's gone forever. No one is ever going to forgive him. That's the good thing for Mike Rice. His self-worth will come by who he is now, not by his title."
The path from bullying basketball coach to self-aware human being is a hard one, lined with tears and bacon cheeseburgers.