Rutgers football coach Chris Ash is preparing for Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl matchup with Notre Dame, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to hire assistant coaches to his staff. Yesterday, Aaron Henry was named assistant defensive backs coach. Henry is a former all-conference standout at Wisconsin and most recently, an assistant at Arkansas under Ash's former boss, Bret Bielema.
Today, it was announced that Ash has hired Bill Busch as the defensive backs coach. On the face of it, Busch looks like a great hire, with previous coaching stops at Nebraska, Wisconsin, and this past season, Ohio State. Busch worked for Urban Meyer previously at Utah for three seasons, before returning to work for his old boss this season as a defensive quality control coach for the Buckeyes. He worked at Wisconsin after Bielema and Ash left, as Busch came with former Badger coach Gary Andersen from Utah State.
Ash has now hired six assistant coaches, in addition to two strength and conditioning coaches, with three spots left to fill on his full-time staff. The openings that remain are for a running backs coach, a defensive line coach, and most importantly, a defensive coordinator. In regards to the defense, Flood holdover Jim Panagos seems to still be in the picture for now, although it seems less likely he will be retained by Ash long term. For the defensive coordinator role, it looks certain that the coach who is hired will also assume responsibilities coaching the linebackers as well.
In terms of Ash hiring defensive assistants ahead of hiring a coordinator, it could mean a couple a things. The delay in hiring a defensive coordinator continues to make me think this coach is coming from the NFL. I speculated previously that it could be one of several coaches with a background from the New England Patriots. Also, a coach coming from the NFL would be less likely to bring an assistant with him to fill out the staff. It's possible, if not likely, that the defensive coordinator has been identified and has been consulting with Ash as these hires are being made.
Ash is obviously making the secondary a priority, dedicating two of his nine assistant coaches to that position group. The fact that Busch is well seasoned in the Big Ten is a major plus. Hiring the less experienced Henry in to work under Busch, seems like a smart move as well, due to his championship pedigree as a player in the Big Ten. The same could be said for new offensive line coach A.J. Blazek, who like Henry, was an all-conference standout in the Big Ten, starring at center for Iowa.
Ash now has multiple assistants with coaching experience at Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. Those are some of the most successful programs in the storied history of the Big Ten conference. It will be fascinating to see who Ash hires to fill the three remaining spots on his staff. What does seem clear is that Ash has a strategy for hiring coaches that come from winning programs within the Big Ten. Time will tell if this is the right mix of coaches to take Rutgers to prominence in the conference, but it's tough argue with the strategy.