For the second year in a row, Rutgers defense is under the guidance of a new coordinator. After two years as Rutgers Special Teams Coordinator, the energetic and popular Joe Rossi was promoted to Defensive Coordinator to replace Dave Cohen. Before Cohen, Bob Fraser was one of the architects of the swarming, ferocious Knights at the beating heart of some of Greg Schiano's best years on the banks, serving as either co-DC or solo DC in 2009 through 2011. Fraser is back as special teams coordinator after a brief stint in Tampa Bay with Schiano, and the entire program is better for it. We took a look at the coaches on the offensive side of the ball last week. Let's see who rounds out the defensive and special teams coaching staff, as well as meet recruiting coordinator Tariq Ahmad.
The Man Behind the Curtain -- Tariq Ahmad, Recruiting Coordinator
Ahmad has been Rutgers Football's recruiting coordinator for three years. He joined Rutgers in 2007, and previously served as Director of Player Development. Among a lot of other responsibilities, Ahmad identifies targets, reviews tape submitted by coaches, prospects, parents, and internet sources; coordinates official and unofficial visits to campus; and gets personally involved in recruiting certain high profile prospects. For example, this year he is involved in recruiting St. Peter's Prep linebacker Jordan Fox, Barnegat OL Sam Madden, St. Joe's (Montvale) OL Tommy Hatton, and Red Bank Catholic LB Jamie Gordinier.
Ahmad also organizes a trip to help earthquake-ravaged Haiti with a squad of Rutgers players every year during spring break. This annual trip does a ton of good for the people of Haiti, and is a life-changing experience for the players who go. And what better advertisement is there for the types of young men we want at Rutgers? This year, Knight legend Brian Leonard joined Ahmad and seven current Knights on a trip a few weeks ago. Here's the trailer to a movie about the trip Knights LB Quentin Gause put together:
Defense and Special Teams Coaches
The Prodigal Son - Bob Fraser, Special Teams Coordinator and Linebacker Coach
Tenure at RU: This is Fraser's third tour of duty at Rutgers. He was a graduate assistant at RU in 1987, served in various capacities from 2006-2011, including defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. In 2011 when Fraser was DC, Rutgers ranked first in the Big East in four defensive categories: total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and pass efficiency defense. The defense also ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense (14th), scoring defense (8th), pass defense (9th), pass efficiency defense (5th), sacks (15th) and tackles for loss (8th).
Recruiting Territory: Western NJ and New York
Key 2015 Recruits in Territory: Grant Newsome 4* OL (Lawrenceville, NJ); Christopher Sharp, LB (Hun School, Princeton); Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., 4* TE (Buffalo, NY); Jonathan Forrest, 3* RB (New Rochelle, NY); Hergy Myala, 3* ATH (Pawling, NY); Isaiah White, 3* RB (Middle Island, NY); Tyler Davis, QB (Mepham, NY); Austrian Robinson, DE (Pawling, NY); Qaadir Sheppard, LB (New Rochelle, NY);
Background: Fraser has been a collegiate coach since 1987, with a two year stint in the NFL with Greg Schiano. He has a ton of experience, much of it coming while leading some of the Knights' best defenses.
Notes: Fraser has a lot of experience to offer recruits. He can tell them about the nationally ranked defenses he orchestrated at RU. Or he can tell them about how he helped turn Khaseem Greene into an All-American and Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Or he can tell them about his time in the NFL with Greg Schiano, where he coached Bucs linebacker Lavonte David the year David led the team in both tackles and tackles for loss as a rookie, while ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles and among the top five in the league in solo tackles and tackles for loss. Fraser's return to the banks has been somewhat overshadowed by the Friedgen hire and Joe Rossi's promotion to DC. But make no mistake, Fraser is as responsible for the Knights' success in the second half of Schiano's tenure as anyone, and this is a big-time improvement from last year.
The Hellenic Hellraiser - Jim Panagos, D-Line Coach
Tenure at RU: 2012 to the present, serving as D-Line coach.
Recruiting Territory: Central Florida
Key 2015 Recruits in Territory: Dexter Williams, 4* RB (Winter Garden, FL); Christian Pellage, 4* OL (Brooksville, FL); Garrett Williams, 4* TE (Orlando, FL); Marques Ford, 3* DE (Gibstonton, FL); Riley Nicholson, 3* LB (Osceola, FL); Tyrell Reed, OL (Tampa, FL note: received a Rutgers offer this week); Carson Lydon, 3* LB (Tarpon Springs, FL)
Background: started as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1993, new Knight rival Maryland. Worked as a defensive assistant for the Minnesota Vikings from 2002-2005, and served as D-Line coach at UCF from 2007 to 2011 before coming to Rutgers.
Notes: Encompassing Orlando and Tampa, the Central Florida region has a ton of talent, and RU has never been shy about pulling some gems from the area. Panagos has a lot of experience he can offer prospects, including some valuable NFL time. He also has a lot of contacts in the Orlando area from his time at UCF, making this a great recruiting territory for him.
The DB Wrangler - Darrell Wilson, Secondary Coach
Tenure at RU: This is Wilson's second tenure at RU. He was RB coach in 1999, and started as secondary coach for the 2013 season.
Recruiting Territory: South Jersey
Key 2015 Recruits in Territory: Kareem Ali, 4* DB (Timber Creek); Sam Madden, 4* OL (Barnegat); Manny Bowen, 4* LB (Barnegat); Cinjun Erskine, 4* QB (Barnegat); Irvin Charles, 4* WR (Paul VI, Haddonfield); Ronnie James 3* S (Glassboro); Sterling Sheffield, 3* ATH (Mullica Hill); Tanner Cowley, 3* DE (Manasquan); Rob Ennis, 3* ATH (Millville)
Background: Played one season with the Patriots in 1981, and five with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. He was head coach of South Jersey HS power Woodrow Wilson from 1988 to 1995, before becoming WR/DB coach at Rhode Island. From there he spent a year at Rutgers and then two years at Wisconsin (LB/special teams) before coaching a variety of defensive positions at Iowa from 2002 to 2012.
Notes: Wilson is a native of Pennsauken, NJ, and has deep ties to South Jersey. He also has a lot of B1G experience with the Badgers and Hawkeyes, and professional experience as a player. Rivals named him one of the top 25 recruiters in the nation in 2011. South Jersey is loaded this year, so Wilson will be a key part of how this class comes together. James Franklin already nabbed Juwan Johnson from Glassboro, but there is plenty of talent left for Wilson to bring to the banks.
The Rising Star - Joe Rossi, Defensive Coordinator
Tenure at RU: Rossi served as special teams coordinator in 2012 and 2013, leading some very effective units, before getting the promotion to DC before the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame.
Recruiting Territory: Central Jersey, South Florida
Key 2015 Recruits in Territory: Dontae Strickland, 4* RB (South Brunswick); Myles Hartsfield, 3* S (Sayreville); 4* DE Jamie Gordinier (Red Bank Catholic); David Ryslik, 3* DE (Hightstown); Clay Kemp, DE (St. John Vianney, Holmdel); Rashard Causey, 3* CB (Fort Lauderdale, FL); Erick Hardnett RB, (West Palm Beach, FL); Austin Maloney, WR (Miami)
Background: Rossi has been a DC twice before, filling that role at tiny Thiel College in PA from 2001 to 2006, and most recently, the University of Maine, where he worked from 2007 to 2011.
Notes: Rossi is a very energetic coach, and his promotion to DC was popular with RU's players. There is a lot of talent in Central Jersey this year, and South Florida is always loaded, particularly with DBs and D linemen. Expect Rossi to have a much more active recruiting role than his offensive counterpart Ralph Friedgen, who just turned 67. The 35-year old Rossi should be an effective recruiting weapon for the Knights this year, securing talent from two areas historically essential to Rutgers' success.
There is a great mix of experience and energy on the defensive side of the ball this year. Let's see if that translates to recruiting success in 2015. As always, winning on the field often corresponds to recruiting victories, and under new leadership, a bounce-back from a historically abysmal defense last year would be a welcome sight to Rutgers fans as well as talented prospects.