Pernetti Ready to Make "Investment" in Hoops

In the wake of Fred Hill resigning as Rutgers men's basketball coach, athletic director Tim Pernetti discussed how he will move forward now and the time frame he wants for hiring Hill's successor. Pernetti said "for the first time in a long time we're going to make an investment in men's basketball." He also talked about the current roster, and whether incoming recruits will be let out of NLIs.

With the specter of a lengthy and potentially embarrassing court case playing out no longer a concern, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said Monday night he will "shift my focus 100 percent to the search'' for the Scarlet Knights' next coach.

Pernetti added Rutgers was prepared to make a financial investment in the program for the first time in a while during a call in the wake of coach Fred Hill resigning after agreeing to a buyout, which will pay him close to $1 million.

It ends a protracted process and allows Pernetti to, in his words, hire a Hill's successor "as soon as possible.''

But until now, Pernetti said he had not started the process of hiring a coach.

"In everything we do, I think it's more important than ever that there's a process,'' Pernetti said. "I think the important part of the process of everything that went on is that we respectfully dealt with the process from start to finish.

"I've been very focused on the business at hand. Now, I'll obviously shift my focus 100 percent to the search. It's certainly the biggest priority the athletic department has right now.''

Calls to Hill and his agent were not returned.

Eddie Jordan, who starred on Rutgers' 1976 Final Four team and was recently fired as the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, is on the list of possible candidates, according to sources. Also on the list are former Ohio State and Boston College coach Jim O'Brien and St. John's coach and current ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, according to sources.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy, former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie and Richmond coach Chris Mooney are also possible candidates on a list that is expected to evolve.

Pernetti would not speak about candidates, nor go into detail about the characteristics he wants in Rutgers' next coach. But in reflecting on the hire he made in men's soccer in the winter, he did say a prior relationship with Rutgers was not a must.

"I had never convinced myself that a relationship (with Rutgers) had to be a prerequisite for the job,'' Pernetti said. "I think that is very important. What I also plan to do as part of this process is to reach out to many of the people that are involved in boy's and men's basketball in this area because I think this is a very important step for our men's basketball program.

"I think it's important to get a feel out there for what makes the most sense, not only from my perspective for our university, but what makes sense out there as the people we deal with on the outside, to hear their thoughts and get information from them.''

Another key aspect is how much Rutgers will pay its new coach.

Hill made $600,000 annually and was one of the lowest paid coaches in the Big East. Pernetti also has elaborate plans to renovate the Rutgers Athletic Center

"I have responsibility to the university and the state to be realistic,'' Pernetti said. "But at the same time it's clear that, especially men's basketball, I think we need to invest in the program in order to get it where it's going.

"For the first time in a long time we're going to make an investment in men's basketball, and in this program.''

Hill, who had three years remaining on his contract, was owed $1.96 million if he was fired. The buyout calls for him to receive slightly less than $1 million, with $800,000 to $850,000 being owed on the contract and another $130,000 due because of end-of-season bonuses.

Another issue is with the current make-up of the Scarlet Knights. With guard Mike Rosario saying Sunday he is transferring to Florida and center Greg Echinique transferring to Creighton in January, the Scarlet Knights lack depth, especially in the front court.

Sources said sophomore center Brian Okam is eyeing a transfer closer to his Florida home, with Central Florida as a possible destination. Incoming freshman Gilvydas Biruta of St. Benedict's of Newark (N.J.) already asked out of his signed binding national letter of intent.

Furthermore, sources said Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) guard Austin Carroll may ask out of his letter of intent after the new coach is named, if he does not feel a connection to him.

"I met the players this afternoon, and we did discuss, and I have tried to communicate with the players as much as I can throughout this process because, to me, those guys are the program,'' Pernetti said. "I think they need as much information as anybody. I did speak to them this afternoon to explain that we continue to work very hard to find a resolution.

"It's been well-documented that there have been conversations with Mr. Biruta, and we'll continue to have those conversations.''

However, because of the timing of Hill's resignation, spurred by a university investigation after his alleged involvement in an argument at an April 1 baseball game, the next coach's ability to add to the recruiting class is hamstrung.

Several of Hill's targets recently crossed Rutgers off their lists, and a new coach may have to go overseas for a center, or not bring one in at all.

"The process was the process, and as it's come to a conclusion, the timing is not ideal,'' Pernetti said. "But at the same time …there's really not a whole lot we can do about that right now. I think given the position that we're in, we're going to try to do the best we can to try and keep the (recruits) that are coming in.

"That's where our focus is, and if there are opportunities beyond those guys …we'll do the best we can to make sure we have capable bodies on the team for next season.''

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