Conflict surfaces in Rice probe at Robert Morris

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When the college basketball world fixated on its former coach last week, Robert Morris University officials remained mostly mum on Mike Rice and his three years as the Colonials' men's basketball coach.

Tuesday, in response to allegations made by former Rutgers assistant coach Eric Murdock, that changed.

Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman released findings of an internal investigation into Rice's time as Colonials coach, one which found that Murdock's claims of player-coach brawls were untrue and that Rice, according to one former player, used homophobic slurs against a member of his team.

A total of 17 people with varying affiliations to the school's basketball program were interviewed as part of the investigation.

Five are current members of the Colonials team who also played for Rice, seven were former players, four of whom left the university during Rice's tenure. Also interviewed were three current or former members of the Robert Morris coaching staff and two members of the athletic training staff.

One former player said Rice not only directed homophobic slurs at him, but that the coach also "once or twice" threw basketballs in the direction of players. The player, who transferred out of the program, also said that Rice and a player got into a shoving match in the locker room at halftime of a game.

The player in question vehemently denied such an altercation taking place. Of the 17 people interviewed, just one said that Rice was verbally or physically abusive, which put Coleman in a difficult position as he deals with the findings.

"I've got one individual that claims some of it happened, although to a minor extent compared to what happened at Rutgers," Coleman said. "I don't want to dismiss what that one individual said. I want to respect his views and what he reported.

"I don't want to dismiss it at all, but it does make it difficult to synthesize all of this opinion over here and one individual's opinion there."

The former player's claim of homophobic slurs from Rice means that at least two former Robert Morris players heard Rice use those words in practice. A former Colonials player told the Post-Gazette last week that Rice used slurs like the ones revealed in the practice video shown on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," but that they were never directed at him.

Coleman said that practice tape was not used as part of the investigation because under Rice and current Robert Morris coach Andy Toole, practices are filmed only while leading up to the team's first scrimmage of each season after which they are thrown out.

The investigation, which began late last week and concluded Monday, did not focus on Toole, who was an assistant coach under Rice from 2007-10.

For a school that has gained increasing visibility after a postseason upset of Kentucky in basketball and as host of the Frozen Four hockey tournament this week, Coleman said it was important for Robert Morris to be as forthcoming as possible, even if some questions remain.

"We are more and more in the news, in the public eye and we want to do everything right all the time," Coleman said. "We took this as an opportunity to say, 'Look, Rice was here.'

"I hear people on the radio conjecturing, 'Well, if it happened at Rutgers, it must have happened at Robert Morris.'

"Well, I have something to say about that, too, and I'm sure it isn't necessarily true. We want to know -- did it happen? Not that we can do anything about it at this point, but I would like to know if it happened and we would all like to know if it happened."

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Craig Meyer: and Twitter @craig_a_meyer.


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