Regional turmoil puts Rutgers football in the spotlight

Earlier today Pittsburgh lost yet another football commitment in Don Bosco quarterback Gary Nova. Given Nova's initial role in putting their class together, the news does not bode well for keeping many of the remaining players. Obviously final judgment should be reserved until Mike Haywood can put a staff together, and recruit throughout January. Most speculation at the moment is centering around Haywood's Miami (OH) staff, former Notre Dame assistants under Charlie Weis, and various people with ties to the Pittsburgh program and area.

In retrospect, it's fair to ask whether the Pittsburgh administration made a mistake in firing Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt's weaknesses have been highlighted ad nauseum, but his final undoing seemed to be that Pitt football was stalled in neutral. There are worse flaws, and he wasn't actively regressing their program like Bill Stewart was doing at West Virginia. It's interesting how WVU A.D. Oliver Luck is (rightly, I think) being praised today for his aggression, for being a forward-thinking visionary akin to Rutgers A.D. Tim Pernetti. As the same time Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson is getting raked over the coals.

I think Pederson was working under the assumption that they would hire Al Golden, who would bring in his defensive coordinator but otherwise keep their current staff in place. There wasn't really a good plan B available when Golden took the Miami. It was probably a mistake to fire Wannstedt without a coherent, defined plan in place; just like Pederson seemed to bungle the transition from Frank Solich to Bill Callahan at Nebraska. That doesn't necessarily mean that Wannstedt deserved to stay on, or that the firing was a mistake in a vacuum. Between recruiting and Haywood's supposed disciplinarian streak, they're probably going take a hit in the short term.

Rutgers and Pittsburgh obviously were following very similar models with their football programs, and there may not have been room for both staying on those trajectories. Now the Panthers are completely starting over down a different path, and Rutgers is left to double down on Greg Schiano. At the very same time the program's other big off-field rival in Maryland seems to be enveloped in total chaos. It's unclear whether it is better for Rutgers football to have a lame duck Friedgen or an alien Mike Leach at the helm of that program, but fortune seems to be smiling on Piscataway again after a length absence. As surprising as the notion may appear after an awful 4-8 season, for now Rutgers football stands triumphant: proven to be built on a stable foundation as its rivals crumble like forgotten Babylons.

One caveat for all of that is the excuses for Greg Schiano are rapidly dwindling. Joe Paterno may finally be nearing the end of his long and storied career. With any luck, Temple won't snap up the obvious offensive coordinator candidate looking for a job right now (with the off chance that they could really help RU by hiring G.A. Mangus from South Carolina, although word on their candidates list remains iffy.) Rutgers seriously dodged a bullet too with Al Golden going to Miami instead of Pittsburgh or Maryland. He'll be an occasional nuisance down there, but can't really justify mining New Jersey with all of the local players at his fingertips.

If the party line is going to be that Jeff Hafley is a panacea, then expectations are only going to be that much higher going forward. It won't be enough any more to average seven or eight wins a year coupled with one or two inexplicable losses. A four win down year like 2004 or 2010 is certainly going to be out of the question. Like his mentor Wannstedt, Greg Schiano may now finally have a top-notch group of underlings to make his job that much easier. He better be ready for the pressure that's coming, because there will soon be a day to stop blaming mediocre assistants and turn on the boss who hired them. Soon enough everyone will finally be able to tell whether Schiano is the next Dave Wannstedt or the next Joe Paterno, and that day moved that much further into the future following the events of the past few weeks.

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