PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jamie Dixon hired Mike Rice as an assistant at Pittsburgh in 2006, drawn by Rice's passion and ability to get into the living room of a prized recruit and close the deal.
The son of a coach cut very much from the same cloth that allowed his father, Mike Rice Sr., to carve out a career at Duquesne and Youngstown State, Rice's competitiveness was the stuff of legend.
It also came in a package that inspired loyalty and respect, which made Rice's dismissal from Rutgers on Wednesday for physically and verbally abusing his players all the more stunning for the people that knew him long before the video surfaced of Rice manically flinging basketballs at his Scarlet Knights.
"I think the people know him here, they know he's a good person," Dixon said Wednesday, hours after Rice was fired. "He's acknowledged he's made some mistakes."
Dixon choked up while talking about Rice, whose future in coaching remains very much in doubt.
"Mike's a good friend," Dixon said. "He's a good person."
The same coach seen yelling anti-gay slurs at his players at Rutgers is the same one who convinced highly-touted point guard Tray Woodall to leave Brooklyn to go play for the Panthers. Woodall, a senior, took to his Twitter account to defend his mentor.
"They are going at my man Mike Rice too hard," Woodall posted. "He's the reason I came to Pitt."
Woodall later added Rice is "not the only coach to put his hands on a player, or talk the way he did."
Perhaps, but now he's out of a job.
A star on the rise three years ago after leading Robert Morris to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Rice now finds himself a flashpoint for what is — and what is not — considered appropriate coaching behavior.