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The Unthinkable Happens: Greg Schiano leaves Rutgers for the NFL

The first reaction

If there was one coach in college football who even had a snowball's chance in hell of lasting as long in one place as Joe Paterno, it was one of his coaching progeny in Greg Schiano. Given the age of coaches like Frank Beamer and Mack Brown, Greg Schiano was the only bowl subdivision coach in America to have a decade-plus tenure at his current job, and to still be in his forties. Greg Schiano is a good man, and an honest man, one of the few left in the sport, but he was not Paterno. He (thankfully) did not follow his mentor to Happy Valley, and really, who could blame him? Schiano built his own legacy in Piscataway, and another college job clearly would not be enough to draw him away after he spurned the likes of Michigan and Miami. The NFL? Now that's a different story.

Kids in Bergen County in the seventies didn't grow up dreaming about the Nittany Lions. They grew up with the Jets and Giants, and naturally, that mindset was enough to lure Schiano to the NFL. The biggest stage in the world and a gigantic paycheck tend to do that. Listen, it sucks. Everything was going our way over the past few months, and that magical run of good fortune finally ran out. You can't blame the guy in that respect. You only wish it wasn't this close to Signing Day. Not after Signing Day; Schiano wouldn't do that to a recruit, to promise them the world and then leave them in a lurch. It's going to be hell for the football program to pull everything together with that crucial deadline right around the corner, but it would have been far worse, almost Edsall-ian, to directly screw over the kids by lying to their faces. Greg Schiano is leaving, but at least he can hold his head up high.

Seriously, why would the NFL want him?

It's weird. A few weeks back, when Peter King started talking about those Miami rumors, they seemed completely out of left field. Greg Schiano turned in the same 8-4 season he always turned in. The only difference from last year was that the offensive coordinator was at least halfway competent. Schiano is by no means a bad coach, but he has distinct pluses and minuses. He's a great defensive coordinator, obviously. He's a great program builder, and a very good recruiter. With all of that put together, he could have had a lifetime contract at Rutgers. Clearly though, there were minuses too. His teams consistently were mired in mediocrity in the Big East. One or two games a year, they just wouldn't show up. When you think of college coaches built for the NFL, you think a Kirk Ferentz, a Randy Edsall - guys who win with elite scheming, scouting, or talent development.

Greg Schiano was a very, very skilled coach, but on the surface his skillset doesn't seem to translate well to the next level. I never really understood why say, Michigan was interested in the first place - beyond Schiano being the media coach du jour at the time, and their program being in complete chaos. This isn't intended to be sour grapes, but given the average lifespan of a coach in the NFL, and the current state of Tampa Bay - you could definitely see his tenure ending up like a Steve Spagnuolo or a Gregg Williams - elite defensive coordinators who didn't win much as head coaches (although neither was in a great situation.) Still, when push came to shove, he wanted the shot - to prove to himself that he could succeed at the most elite level of football. Worst comes to worst, he fails and lands on his feet as a top NFL defensive coordinator. You have to give Schiano this - he's right up there with Dick LeBeau and Spagnuolo as elite blitz gurus.

edit: One thought that I forgot to mention was that Chuck Pagano just landed a HC job in the NFL. Pagano, of course, was a position coach under Schiano at Miami in the late 90s. He bounced around a bit, then landed in a great organization like the Ravens. Let's say, counter factually, that things worked out different, and Schiano instead left Miami for a NFL defensive coordinator gig. Then, since he's an innovative defensive mind, he put together some great defenses. Think Steve Spagnuolo. No one would find it weird if he received the chance at a NFL head coaching job then. Yes, it seems weird given what we actually know about Schiano's track record, but he's certainly as qualified as anyone else for a first-time NFL job. The guy literally slept in his office to build Rutgers into a winner. One thing's for sure: if nothing else, he will clean up their locker room.

Schiano's legacy

Greg Schiano did a great job of rebuilding the football program at Rutgers, and for that, the fans will forever be greatful. He had his share of critics - some deserved (he consistently could never break through in a mediocre football conference), and some not (getting torn to pieces by the local press for running the program at a small deficit, making up for decades of neglect - and this is when the other athletic programs at Rutgers are bleeding millions.) Schiano did not take shortcuts at Rutgers, and through his efforts, has established a program that can survive his departure. Pretty much, the expectations here now are that autopilot should get you seven or eight wins. It's not the SEC - we care about academics, and about players staying out of trouble. You won't get run out of town for not winning the national championship, but you at least have to be halfway decent every year now.

Considering Schiano's pluses and minuses, Rutgers certainly should be able to find a new coach capable of finishing with a .600 winning percentage over the next decade. This is still a program with plenty going for it, albeit with the one gigantic lingering albatross of conference affiliation. You have a great local talent base, dedicated fans, an athletic department that's willing to do what it takes to win, there's the spotlight of the New York City media market, but paradoxically, plenty of patience. This is an attractive job for coaches - far more attractive now than scandal-tainted Penn State, or a Pittsburgh program that can't stop tripping over its two feet. Rutgers football will take some hits for a while, just like they did after a losing campaign in 2010. Nothing epitomizes Rutgers and New Jersey more than to always have a chip on your shoulder about proving the world wrong.

RU has come back from worse , and they'll come back from this. The recruiting class is in flux obviously, but Schiano does leave a pretty freakin' stacked team that should be one of the preseason favorites to win the Big East. Who knows? The new guy could come right in with a head of steam and win from day one, with the program stronger than ever. This isn't 1995, with a bare bones athletic department hiring a buffoon so Bill Walsh will speak at their coaching clinic. The bad old days aren't coming back as long as Tim Pernetti is athletic director, and everyone can rest assured that he will perform the requisite due diligence to find the next head coach for Rutgers football. Step back, stop panicking, and breathe, because everything is going to be okay. Eventually.

Stay tuned for an overview of the available coaching options out there. Sorry guys, the timing sucks all around on this one.