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What if Greg Schiano had left for Michigan?

Counterfactuals and alternate histories are always fun, and considering current circumstances, this one is a doozy. Back in 2007, Michigan's coaching search had spiraled into complete disarray, with their athletic director reportedly botching what should have been an easy hire of LSU's Les Miles. Their coaching search eventually set its sights on Greg Schiano, and to the bafflement of pretty much, well, everyone - he respectfully declined, in favor of staying at Rutgers. This wasn't a Miami program that Larry Coker had set in complete disarray. This wasn't a scandal plagued Penn State program that couldn't hope to match the quality of life available in New Jersey, and was probably destined to crumble the second Joe Paterno left.

This was Michigan, the cream of the college football crop, located in scenic Ann Arbor. Even the most die-hard Rutgers supporter - who didn't give a hoot about the Maize and Blue, and loved New Jersey - would probably be willing to relocate to Ann Arbor if Michigan offered to double their salary and quintuple their professional prestige. It sucks, and you can thank decades of institutional neglect and stupid decisions (if aliens visited Earth out of the blue, they would surely be perplexed as to why wealthy New Jersey couldn't seem to get its act together when it came to higher education and all that topic entails. Which is why this blog will always discuss broader Rutgers issues.), but that's life. Rutgers is still in the process of building, and that process can weigh even on the most strong-willed individuals. Michigan is at the top of college football, and not in the Notre Dame "we used to be good, but haven't been for decades now and running" way either.

How can that decision be analyzed in retrospect? On one hand, Rich Rodriguez's tenure in Michigan seemed to be pretty much doomed from the start, as Lloyd Carr loyalists sabotaged his regime at every turn. Presumably, Schiano would have been more willing to play ball, and pledge fealty to the Ancien Regime. After all, he was a defensive-minded coach, who was perfectly willing to hire a pro-style coordinator with relative autonomy. Whatever Rodriguez's considerable flaws with hiring subordinates and meddling with his defense, he was never given a fair shake, and a crucial X-factor remains how much cooperation Schiano would have received from Carr loyalists, or whether Carr's immediate successor was inevitably doomed to fail.

Rich Rodriguez came out worse for the wear for his Michigan tenure, as his previously sterling reputation took a considerable hit, but it's not like the University of Arizona is an awful place to land on your feet. The conventional wisdom outside Rutgers is that even considering what happened to Rodriguez, Schiano made the mistake of a lifetime by turning down Michigan. Obviously, now being the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, and finishing as a finalist in St. Louis and with the Miami Dolphins render that analysis rather silly and unsophisticated with the benefit of hindsight. This is coaching, and a coach's fortune can change on a dime. For whatever reason, probably a combination of a multitude of them, Greg decided his work was not finished four years ago. This time, he chose to move on.

This is a Rutgers blog, after all, so let's consider what would have happened back in New Jersey first. The Knights didn't exactly sign a marquee recruiting class that year, although it's possible that Scott Vallone and Art Forst may have signed elsewhere, possibly following Schiano to Michigan. The bigger impact would have been with next year's class, which was the first real breakthrough of Schiano's tenure. I've always thought that the reason Tom Savage went to Rutgers in the first place was because Michigan had shifted to the spread option. Savage and Schiano were tight, man, which made last year's transfer so outright shocking.

Savage goes to Michigan then as the next in a long succession of pro style quarterbacks, and without Savage as a marquee commitment, the team might not have signed other top prospects like Logan Ryan (the best cornerback in the Big East last year or Duron Harmon.) One can only hope that Schiano would have had the charity to leave the film on Mohamed Sanu in Piscataway, who was a local overaged senior who word did not really get out on until after he had committed. Chas Dodd probably never signs with Rutgers without Kirk Ciarrocca, with his scholarship going to Joe Brennan instead.

As to who would take over the reigns in Piscataway, there would have been strong support for elevating OL coach Kyle Flood, as his stock was completely through the roof at that time. Assistant Darren Rizzi was in the process of leaving for Rhode Island, and would have been a very strong candidate depending on the exact timing. Offensive coordinator John McNulty would have been considered as well, if he was not intent on following Schiano to Michigan. Mario Cristobal would probably not have gotten the nod after finishing at 1-11 in his first year at FIU, meaning that Al Golden from a 4-8 Temple team would have been a strong favorite. Don't forget, Bob Mulcahy was basically bullied by New Jersey high school coaches into hiring Schiano after chasing the likes of Gary Darnell and Mark Whipple. Golden was still unproven at the time, but odds are, the same thing would have probably happened in an effort to maintain continuity - even if Mark D'Onofrio is not well liked at all in Piscataway.

A lot of the offensive staff probably follows Schiano out the door. If Susan did leave, Golden could have hired Ed Foley to replace him, who was on Golden's Temple staff. Golden had to stick with regional retreads like Rob Spence and George DeLeone on his early Temple staffs. Could he have done better at Rutgers? (One positive at least: maybe the Kirk Ciarrocca experiment/debacle never happens!) Defensively, D'Onofrio would have been defensive coordinator of course, and switching to the 3-4 could have been ugly. Gary Emanuel would have been a great hire if possible, and RU would definitely still be in the market for a DB coach with Chris Demarest certain to leave. That could have, maybe, been an opportunity to jump on Jeff Hafley a few years early.

Probably the biggest change? With no huge contract extension for Greg Schiano, the Star-Ledger does not feel the need to publish draft contract clauses (that were never enacted) leaked by a bitter Board of Trustees member with an axe to grind, and Bob Mulcahy is allowed to retire on his own timetable. He stays on a few more years, with Kevin MacConnell quickly elevated after his retirement, and Tim Pernetti stays in television to advance up the latter at CBS Sports. Rutgers may be more gun-shy about expanding the stadium after Corzine's promise of aid falls through in 2008, and as a result decide to move a few bigger games to Giants Stadium instead - including a few certain wins against a hapless Notre Dame program. Golden would have probably turned in similar on-field results to Schiano, getting linked to the Penn State job for years before their program craters in 2011.

Golden may well have not jumped to Miami if they had come calling a year earlier, reasoning that Temple to Penn State may have been too big of a jump, but Rutgers would be a more ideal stepping-stone in terms of keeping local recruiting contacts fresh and the like. You have to say, there are both distinct positives and negatives to all of this, excepting the fact that every non-football program besides wrestling and women's basketball would probably be far, far worse off. The thought of Fred Hill staying on even longer is quite cringe-inducing.

IF 2010 never happens though, you really have to wonder if Rutgers forces the issue in getting an ACC bid over Pitt or Syracuse. They have to be second-guessing their decision as is after what happened last year, and it would have been a complete no-brainer if Ciarrocca doesn't drive everything off a cliff at the very worst possible time. Yes, the new Rutgers coach could have also fallen flat on his face, or made an equally bad hire. Golden certainly could have turned in the same level of performance though as proven by what he did at Temple. He just would have left eventually when bigger programs came calling, and certainly would have required a bigger contract a few years down the road.

As to Schiano in Ann Arbor (assuming that he played nice with Lloyd Carr), this site's sentiments on Schiano are clear. His biggest possible advantage at Rutgers wouldn't have been as prominent at Michigan, but there's no reason to expect that the program itself couldn't attract the top local recruits, leaving Mark D'Antonio at Michigan State in a lurch, who strongly benefited from Michigan abandoning the pro-style offense. On the plus side, Schiano is a great defensive mind. No, Denard Robinson does not come to Michigan, but it's at the plus side of having an actual, functioning 4-3 defense in 2008 onwards. Again, no Denard, but the offense would not have denigrated into a tire fire in 2007 either. Ryan Mallett would have been more inclined to stay instead of transferring to Arkansas, and Schiano probably convinces Tom Savage to head west for college as Mallett's heir apparent.

Let's assume that McNulty, Flood, and possibly Bob Fraser (LB, who's a great positional coach) follow Schiano to Michigan. Joe Susan could have too, as he went back with Schiano all the way to Bucknell, but a lot of his value stemmed from having recruiting ties in NJ, and Schiano would have faced pressure to keep on Carr loyalists like Mike DeBord on staff even in diminished capacities. He also might have kept other defensive staffers like Vance Bedford, Steve Stripling, or Steve Szabo, and possibly Scott Loeffler, Erik Campbell, and Fred Jackson on the offensive side of the ball. Gary Emanuel (who was just about to join Rutgers) would have been a great hire as DL coach, but his stock may have been too depressed at the time. If McNulty still gets antsy and leaves down the road, Michigan has the checkbook to find more of a proven hire than a spread guru from Delaware riding on Joe Flacco's coattails.

With the benefit of NFL-sized defensive tackles on roster, such as Mike Martin, does Schiano still implement his crazy, midget-blitzing defense from Rutgers in all of its glory? Probably not, even if Eric Foster making Brian Brohm dine on the turf is what got Schiano on the national radar in 2006. It sure would have been fun, scratch that, AMAZING to see Brandon Graham lining up as a defensive tackle though. Because, trust me - if Graham went to Rutgers, that's would have happened. So; the craziness probably is not implemented fully to its greatest extent if Schiano had access to a higher calibre of recruits, although he is still a defensive blitzing guru.

That brings us to the million dollar question - how would Schiano have done at Rutgers? Well, a year ago Michigan fans were enraged by the prospect of hiring Brady Hoke; and in all honesty, they probably were right. He was unqualified for a job like Michigan. In spite of the naysayers, he succeeded in his first year, largely owing to having a terrific defensive coordinator in Greg Mattison on staff. That's essentially the rule in college football now - head coaches like Dabo Swinney and Gene Chizik can get along just fine as long as they have a top assistant like Gus Malzahn or Chad Morris to do all of the heavy lifting. If you think of Schiano like that, like a Mattison with expanded responsibilities; who knows, maybe it ends up working like it did this year.

Basically, the reason why the likes of Brian Cook went gaga for Schiano in the first place was his well-deserved reputation as a big game coach. Michigan fans watched Rutgers upset the likes of Louisville, and especially that 2007 USF game, and exclaimed, traumatized by years of Lloyd Carr, "By Golly! A trick play! This fellow from New Jersey has some real gumption!"

Which was true in a sense, but belies the chief criticism from Rutgers fans about Schiano over the years. He will follow up that soaring triumph with a head scratching defeat. Michigan State should have been a program-defining win in 2004, and the next week they lose to New Hampshire - a New Hampshire program hiding the supernova that would soon become Chip Kelly mind you, but New Hampshire nonetheless. Years later, he hires an offensive coordinator so bad that Rutgers could lose to the likes of Syracuse for two years in a row. Then, when there are no excuses left beyond simply looking past an opponent, last year RU was clobbered by an abysmal, hopeless UConn squad that they had no business losing to this far into his tenure. No doubt, he would have brought it in bowls, and got the team up for Tressel and Ohio State though.

It ultimately boils down to whether that factor would have been worth the random, inexplicable losses to random teams that could not be explained by any possible rhyme or reason. That is hard to say, but I think what truly tips the scales in Schiano's favor was how much the Michigan program was in disarray under Rodriguez, even if a lot of the media scrutiny boiled down to a witch hunt that did not have any grounding at all in facts (which is another thing linking Rutgers and Michigan the past few years, even more so than the Schiano factor.) There is no doubt about it. Greg runs a tight ship, and there would have never been any negative headlines for off-the-field reasons. Is that worth buying some hip abstract modern art piece, when you thought you were bidding on a Picasso? That aspect is for Michigan fans to decide, so I am certainly interested to see their thoughts on the matter, and whether any facts in this post were capriciously wrong, etc... So, from either side, have at it.