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For Rutgers, hiring a chance to put scandal behind it

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Rutgers University is hoping to usher in a scandal-free era at 3 p.m. today, when university officials will announce Julie Hermann has been hired to replace Tim Pernetti, who resigned as athletic director April 5 in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal.

To do so, they'll have to present Hermann correctly, said Karen Kessler, a reputation manager in Warren who is not working with Rutgers on the announcement.

The hiring of Hermann was reported earlier today in a Star-Ledger story, citing unnamed sources.

Kessler, of Evergreen Partners, in Warren, would advise university officials to stress the credentials of the new coach, make sure he or she is very accessible, and set strong parameters as to what it means to be a staff person at Rutgers. She said the university is likely very anxious right now about recruiting.

"There is a lot of work to be done, especially with parents of prospective students," said Kessler, who used to serve as an adviser to the writers of the television show "The Good Wife" and now advises on the scandals written in the series "Nashville." "You want to assure parents how their child will be treated as a whole, and not just as a performer on a field or a court, and let them know their kids will be well-looked after. It has to be a major effort toward parents and high school coaches to assure them that this will be a new era."

There also needs to be balance on the part of the administration as to what extent the university will finance the athletic program.

"There is a lot of resentment that the athletic budget eclipses other programs," she said. "You have to make it clear that the athletic department will not be funded at the expense of every other department that is award-winning in its own area."

While she hasn't been involved with the Rutgers athletic department shakeup, Kessler said in her career, she's "seen all kinds of behavior outside the scope of professionalism that are far more egregious, with physical and sexual abuse."

"All kinds of things have gone on in sports programs for the sake of winning. You have to look carefully and pull back the covers to see what it took to get there."

As for fired coach Mike Rice, it's very possible that his career in college athletics is not over, especially if he shows remorse.

"I've seen people who were fired or run out of town, who felt like their lives were ended," Kessler said. "Some came back and they came back strong. If it's a talented coach and they show enough humility, there is another life. Sometimes if you win a lot, memories dim quickly."

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