When former Rutgers forward Austin Johnson saw the tape of head coach Mike Rice verbally abusing players and throwing basketballs at them on ESPN's Outside the Lines this afternoon, he was admittedly shocked that it had reached a national level of news.
Johnson, who drew his fair share of criticism from Rice during the three years they were together, recognized the man in the video, but said it was different than the version of Rice he'd seen since he first arrived on campus, and markedly different from when he served a three-game suspension in December.
"I feel like it's unfortunate for a lot of different people. I feel bad for Rice because I know he's been trying to change," Johnson said. "He showed a lot of change and he showed he listened. When the first allegations came out, he was reprimanded and he showed that he was willing to change. He's a lot different know than he was when he first came.
"Rice in his first year and who Rice is now are two different people. He learned from the mistakes. I feel like he was reprimanded before and we definitely saw the change in him. He was definitely trying to make a change for the better and be cognizant of every move in what he said, what he did."
Johnson said remembered and lived through all the incidents on the tape, and while he may feel Rice did cross the line in some instances, what was shown on the ESPN program did not provide the full representation of the head coach.
"When you make a highlight video of anything, if it's good or if its bad, it's either going to be really, really good or really, really bad," Johnson said. "People don't take into account how the rest of the practices are, how our program is, how our traveling is, how our film sessions are, how our team-building camaraderie sessions are. It's definitely hard to justify what's been going on off a highlight reel of somebody's worst moments."
Johnson was one of a small cadre of players to stay in the wake of Fred Hill's dismissal in 2010. During his three ensuing years, his role may have changed at times, but he says he never wavered from the fact he felt unthreatened by Rice's tactics.
"I never felt like I was ever in harm's way, threatened or anything was going to happen to me. I just knew that my mindset had to be different for practices because it's a much more intense environment," he said. "It's a place where emotions run high and everything is based off intensity, and I feel like a lot of the reactions from the coaches to the players and conversely from the players to the coaches is solely based off of intensity. After practice, that gets left on the court and everything changes once you walk off the court."
Looking back, Johnson feels he was able to use Rice's motivation and intensity, however it manifested, as a means to improve his play.
"He definitely used different tactics that got my attention. Sometimes I didn't like his tactics, and other times, even if I didn't like it, I realized he was getting results out of me and I would respond certain ways. I realized that for other players as well. His methodology might be different than other people but that's just part of his makeup of him as a person, his intensity and his desire to win and change the program and change the culture at Rutgers."