At halftime of the Rutgers Seton Hall game, word started leaking out. Patrick Hobbs, Greg Brown, and the rest of the Rutgers braintrust had hired a new football coach--Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash. The buzz in the RAC was noticeable, but not about the game itself.
No, the game was a disaster. Rutgers turned a 9 point lead into a 13 point halftime deficit. After halftime,t he game got even uglier, all while Hobbs was in the stands watching. Rutgers lost by 29, and then it got even uglier. In the postgame press conference, Eddie said he told his team he wasn't going to teach them how to rebound. And then SNY reporter Adam Zagoria wrote about the local recruiting story.
So, yeah, as good a day as it was for the Rutgers football program, it was bad for the program on the hardwood.
Rutgers sits at 3-5, without a win over a team in a major conference. And fans are starting to grumble about the basketball staff.
But it is not time for Eddie Jordan to be fired. Not by a long shot.
Eddie Jordan is a loyal son of Rutgers, and that gets him some leeway. He loves the school and represents it well off the court. In his three years, back on the banks, Rutgers been a tumultuous place, but Jordan has kept his head high. Even when faced with his own scandal--not earning his degree during his years as a student--Jordan didn't hide from the fact. Instead, he faced it head on, taking classes over two years and completing his degree. Images of Jordan dressed in cap and gown last May are a stark contrast to the Kyle Flood report, meeting with a professor without wearing Rutgers gear. It's unfair to compare these two moments, but they do link as images in one's head.
Jordan, too, took over a team with only 4 scholarship players on the roster. And his first class was a total panic class, full of risky moves and roster reachers. He has since purged that class and for the first time, he has his own players on the court. Corey Sanders, the freshman point guard, is electric and makes the offense a pleasure to watch on most nights. Deshawn Freeman was a Big Ten ready power forward before his knee injury. Mike Williams and DJ Foreman are important pieces that can grow into full Big Ten impact players over the next two years. The process to upgrade the talent has been slow, but it's there.
And, yet, Jordan hasn't been able to do this easily. Fred Hill killed the Rutgers basketball program, and Mike Rice buried it. When Jordan was hired to fix it, they said, "Dig us out of this hole and get our heart beating again. Oh, and here's a spork." We all know the basketball facilities are a disaster, and while there's a plan in place to fix them, Rutgers fans haven't heard much about the progress toward building. It seems that a ground breaking is still some time off. If Hobbs were to fire Jordan at the end of this season, who in their right mind would be a candidate for this position?
No, that is Hobbs mission right now. He can't worry about firing the head basketball coach. First he has to worry about getting a shovel in the ground toward a practice facility. The one on top of the parking deck. If Hobbs can get that going, it gives Eddie Jordan some power on the recruiting path. And, if Jordan is ultimately fired, the pool of candidates for the job will be much wider. The right choice might actually want the job. If there is another coaching search at Rutgers, it will be just as important as the football search, and Hobbs will need all of the tools to get it done. In Bruce Feldman's article about Ash, he said the coach was impressed with Rutgers facilities. That is key in selling a guy to lead your program. And while recruiting doesn't seem good right now, there are some key pieces the staff is honing in on that would help next year's roster--including one that visited campus yesterday. And with Nigel Johnson replacing Bishop Daniels, that's a step forward as well.
So, no, Eddie Jordan can't be fired now. That, of course, doesn't mean he's blameless in all of this. The coach needs to do some serious philosophical soul searching. Jordan needs to move on from his NBA mentality. While that has been a gradual movement for Jordan during his tenure, it now needs to be dramatic. The fastbreak is not as effective in college basketball, as most teams drop back rather than fighting for offensive rebounds. And there are kids on this team who've only played basketball for a few years, you need to teach rebounding. And you have to play strong defense in college hoops. There are lessons this team isn't learning yet, and Jordan needs to drive that home in practice.
This Rutgers team is more entertaining than previous editions, and Jordan deserves a shot. He may be on the hot seat, but it's not boiling yet. Hobbs has other things on his plate he has to attack. Things that will help the basketball program more than replacing Eddie Jordan would.
Get those done first.
Dave White is the author of the Rutgers-set Jackson Donne thrillers. Check them out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and where ever books are sold. Or you can visit his website here.