The rise and fall of Mike Rice, the former Robert Morris University basketball coach and University of Pittsburgh assistant, is an object lesson in understanding that the passion to win can be a two-edged sword.
By several accounts, Mr. Rice has some good qualities, as Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has attested. But a shocking video that surfaced showed Mr. Rice abusing his players verbally and physically, an intolerable breach of acceptable behavior for anyone in his position.
He was dismissed Wednesday from his position as coach at Rutgers University, an act that might otherwise be praised as swift and sure if it were not for the fact the school knew Mr. Rice had a problem. In December, Rutgers suspended the coach for three games, fined him $75,000 and packed him off to anger management training. Only now with the damaging video out in public did Mr. Rice get fired.
With individual careers on the line, and big money riding on successful programs, the need to win weighs heavily on big college sports. The old ideas that winning isn't everything and the game's the thing seem almost quaint today. Of course, most schools and coaches do keep their heads and their moral sense, but it's hard to look at this case and not see at least the desire to win blinding Mr. Rice and perhaps his employer Rutgers.
Passion is important in sports. Sometimes coaches need to yell at their players and get in their faces. It's all right to become angry on occasion when the quest for excellence is being bungled. But excellence ultimately requires discipline of both players and coaches. There is a line to be walked, sometimes fine but usually clear.
A coach who uses homophobic slurs and throws basketballs wildly at players has clearly crossed the line. At that moment, he is not the coach but the bully, not the disciplined mentor but the menace. He needs to be benched and find another line of work. And the rest of us need to contemplate that the cost of winning games should not be paid by losing decency.