With his voice quivering at times, Eddie Jordan returned to Rutgers and took over as coach of the scandal-marred basketball program, promising to move forward and restore the dignity, pride and integrity to a university embarrassed by abuses that forced the firing of coach Mike Rice.
In choosing the 58-year-old Jordan, Rutgers turned to one of its greatest sports heroes to restore the image of university tarnished by a former coach who grabbed players in practice, threw balls at them and uttered gay slurs.
"I am really honored and blessed to be named the caretaker of our team, of our program, of our university's basketball program," said Jordan, who left a job as an assistant coach with the Lakers to return to the school he helped reach the Final Four in 1976. "I say 'our' because we've all come to a point that we have to regain our pride and our dignity and our integrity to our university. That's why I'm honored and proud to be part of that. There's a responsibility for all of us to represent our university in the highest class and the utmost respect. "
The hiring came a little less than three weeks after Rice was fired after a videotape of his practice tantrums was televised. The ensuing scandal forced the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti, a top university lawyer and an assistant coach.
Jordan, who has been the head coach of three NBA teams, didn't want to discuss the past. However, it was obvious the videotape of Rice yelling at his players and throwing balls at them hurt.
"You take all the feelings of all the people in this gym and that's how I felt," said Jordan, who was given a five-year contract worth $6.25 million.
The deal includes a base salary of $550,000 the first year and $650,000 in the final year with additional guaranteed compensation ranging from $500,000 the first year to $850,000 in 2017-18.
There also were some interesting incentives including $5,000 for each win over New Jersey-rival Seton Hall. There also is a $10,000 incentive for a team average cumulative GPA of 2.7 and bonuses ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 for 20-win seasons, NIT champions, conference champions and Final Four appearances. Rutgers will move to the Big Ten Conference in 2014,
The contract was signed Friday and was approved by the board of governors Tuesday.
A couple of hours later, Jordan walked into the College Ave. gymnasium to chants of "Eddie! Eddie!" by the roughly 250 people who attended the press conference, including at least five members of the Scarlet Knights' Final Four team, led by Phil Sellers and Mike Dabney, most with more white in their hair or none at all. There also were seven or eight players from last season's team.
"Today is about the future of Rutgers basketball, and we're moving forward," Jordan said. "There's some healing process that has to be done. I'm glad my team is here. We have enough talent to exceed expectations. We want our guys to feel good about themselves, about their future, about their basketball team. That is part of my responsibility, but as always it's also part of yours because we're all one and we all need help to regain our integrity back."
Jordan described himself as open minded, patient and low maintenance. He said he coached two NBA players who were Muslims and knew they were not allowed to be around anyone who cursed, and he doesn't, noting his mother still carries a whip.
"I think what's important to me, my mindset on a daily basis is to save my players."
Since the end of the season, five players from last year's team have asked for transfers. Jordan hopes to convince some to stay, and he said one has already told him that he was coming back. He also has spoken with some recruits who have decommitted and plans to attend AAU tournaments this weekend.
However, he concedes resurrecting a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 will be a challenge.
"I don't know if this is rock bottom," Jordan said. "I think the basketball program has taken a real big hit and understandably and unfortunately, it is the centerpiece that puts Rutgers on the map," he said. "The normal average citizen says look what happened at Rutgers, not just the basketball team. I think to restore integrity can we win games, yes. As we move forward in the season, are we smiling, are we happy, are we hugging each other. If people see that they can say they are going in the right direction."
Joe Boylan, who was an assistant coach at Rutgers when Jordan played, could not have been happier with the hiring.
"The times and the person have met in a historical sense," Boylan said, "When we look back on this day I feel we'll say this is when it all started again to be good for Rutgers."
Sellers said Jordan is the right person at the right time.
"He has his work cut out for him, no jokes aside," Sellers said. "I like that he is reaching out to the players. You don't want them to get away. I know guys are a little discouraged and confused about what is going on, but I hope that they give Eddie a chance.