Robert Morris AD, Pitt's Dixon Talk Mike Rice

Rutgers will officially announce Mike Rice as its new men's basketball coach later this week, so went to his two most recent bosses to get their perspective on the hire, and gain insight into what type of coach the Scarlet Knights are getting. Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman and Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon shared their opinions on Rutgers' new coach.

Two of Mike Rice's former bosses, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman, paint the new Rutgers basketball coach as a hard-working, intense person who understands how to run a program.

Rutgers will not officially announce Rice as the successor to Fred Hill until the board of governors approves the hire in the next 48 hours, so it precludes Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti from discussing it publicly. A press conference is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Thursday.

However, after watching Rice turn Robert Morris into the premiere program in the Northeast Conference in three wildly successful seasons, Coleman saw two things stand out above everything else.

"I think he changed the culture of our program,'' Coleman told "The two biggest changes he made in his three years are, first, we became a defense-first program. We were the blue-collar, get-it-done-defensively-and-everything-will-flow-from-that kind of program. It was very much modeled after Pitt in the Big East.

"The other thing is he used virtually his entire team. He expected his kids to play really hard, and lots of kids got playing time. He always had fresh legs at the end of games.''

It makes sense Rice would model Robert Morris after Pittsburgh. Before being named the Colonials head coach, he spent two seasons as Dixon's assistant at neighboring Pittsburgh.

"The biggest thing to me was the intensity these kids played with and their ability to handle adversity,'' Coleman said, "because they had adversity in practice every day.''

Rice, 41, was 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris, including 46-8 in the Northeast Conference. He won two NEC tournament titles, which translated into a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, and also went to the NIT.

"As the league changed and teams moved (to other conferences), that probably became the best job in the conference,'' Dixon told "I think he's adaptable. I think that is something he has. That would be the thing that stands out.

"When he first got there he relied on inside guys and the wings, and then this last year they relied on his two guards.''

During the search process, Rice received the backing of several influential coaches from the New Jersey/New York basketball scene, including St. Anthony of Jersey City legendary coach Bob Hurley Sr.

Last season's leading scorer, freshman Karon Abraham, is from North Jersey, but he has contacts beyond the metropolitan area. He recruited four players from the Philadelphia area to Robert Morris, and also dipped into Maryland, Virginia and Ohio.

"They're getting a passionate, hard-working person who loves the game,'' Dixon said. "He's a great person with a very good work ethic. I think he's similar to Fred (Hill) with his contacts and his energy and passion for the game. I think he knows a lot of the same people.''

In the two seasons prior to his arrival, Robert Morris was 32-25. His winning percentage of .702 is, by far, the best in school history. The only other coach with a winning record is Matt Furjanic, who went 73-71 (.507) three decades ago.

Furthermore, Rice's 26, 24 and 23 wins in his three seasons are first, second and tied for third for most in a season in school history.

Dixon, who is friends with Robert Morris president Gregory G. Dell'Omo, said the university's increased commitment to improving its athletic programs should not be overlooked in the Colonials' newfound success.

"Robert Morris has made a real commitment to basketball and athletics,'' Dixon said. "If you look at what they've done in recent years, they've made an incredible commitment to athletics, and specifically the basketball program.

"The University has grown tremendously in the 12 years I've been (at Pittsburgh). It's had a staggering growth in both athletics and academics.''

Coleman became the athletic director in 2005, and said there is much more to Robert Morris' success than the financial resources put into the program.

"He's extremely intense, he's extremely personable,'' Coleman said. "I'm no basketball coach, but he's obviously had lots of success, and he's a winner.

"I am not a big believer that resources always translate into winning. I think you have to have a coach who is a great coach, and is a great recruiter.''

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