The wait is finally over.
Just over a week after dismissing head coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers has found his replacement in Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash. The news broke on Saturday that Ash and Rutgers were finalizing details of his agreement pending approval of the Board of Governors. On Monday, it became official and Ash was introduced to the media at the Hale Center.
It was the first chance for Ash to make an impression on the Rutgers' faithful, and he hit a home run.
The presser began with an introduction by President Robert Barchi, who welcomed Ash and called him the right man for the job due to his commitment to excellence and integrity on the field, and in his players' daily lives and academic efforts. He also gave praise to new AD Pat Hobbs for working tirelessly in his first week on the job.
Once Barchi was finished, Hobbs took the podium to welcome Ash and thank everyone involved in the process that brought the new coach to Rutgers. He added that he set out to find a great ambassador for Rutgers, and he believes Ash has everything it takes to succeed at Rutgers.
Finally, it was Ash's turn, and he began by expressing his very first goal at Rutgers: to lighten up the room and see smiles.
It was a small comment, but one that certainly endeared himself to Rutgers fans immediately, after the football program hasn't given fans much to smile about over the past few months.
He then told us a little about his background in the Garden State, and while he might not have the "Jersey roots" some fans wanted in their next head coach, it's very clear Ash has familiarity and a great appreciation of New Jersey. He discussed his brief stint as an assistant at Princeton, and how much he loves Jersey because of it. Ash made it very clear he has spent time in the state both visiting and recruiting, and he's thrilled to lead our state's team.
To anyone who thought Ash might have just been saying the things he knew we'd want to hear, he offered a true moment of vulnerability when introducing and thanking his family. Ash got visibly choked up when saying his wife is the best coach's wife in America, and thanked her for being there for him throughout his career. It was a sweet moment, and it's nice to see Rutgers has brought aboard another family man.
But he brought the focus right back to football after talking about his son, who asked if he thinks Rutgers can win and can be ranked. When Ash answered "yes" to both questions, he received his son's blessing to lead the Scarlet Knights.
Ash made it very clear he's out to make Rutgers the best it can be, or as he put it, "a first-class program."
"We need to create some positive energy around this program," he said.
Ash discussing what he wants this program to become had to be music for Rutgers' fans ears.
He knows it will take a lot of work and the right people on board, but he thinks it can happen. He was adamant that Rutgers doesn't need New Jersey kids going to other programs, and they want to build a fast, physical team that players with "relentless effort", "tremendous enthusiasm", and that plays for every guy in that locker room. Ash insists that the culture at Rutgers will give them the opportunity for success, and that culture beats strategy every time.
It may just be talk for now, but Ash's opening statement was an emphatic message that he truly believes in this program and this culture, and will do everything in his power to make Rutgers the first-class program he envisions and the fanbase dreams of being.
Ash was also very professional with the Rutgers media, who Ash admitted he expected to be much harsher.
"I heard all this stuff about the New Jersey media, the East Coast media. You guys are tame! I'm looking for the hard questions!" Ash said to a response of laughter.
The media picked Ash's brain for almost a half hour, and Ash answered every question with confidence, poise and openness.
His Q&A with reporters provided a lot of interesting information, and some answers to the burning questions fans have had about the new coach.
Early on, Ash was asked whether he would coach Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. Ash said he will, and that he wouldn't feel right if he didn't help finish what he started at Ohio State as a way of thanking the Buckeyes for being so good to him during his time there. He added that he would expect any assistant coach to do the same if they were hired away by another program. Thankfully, Ash reassured us that his final days in Columbus won't take away from building this Rutgers program.
A big topic for Rutgers fans this past week is how Ash will interact with the players, both the current team and the incoming recruiting class. Ash said he met with the current roster this morning, and praised them by pointing out they were all on-time, sitting up in their chairs and attentive, when that's not always the case everywhere he has coached.
As for the incoming recruiting class, he said he will be very "cautious", since at this time head coaches are only allowed to make one in-home or school visit, but will be on the phone with them right away. Once he has a staff in place, he will begin to visit them, but added he will be attempting to meet with mid-year enrollees as soon as this week.
Another key issue is the coaching staff, and how it will look under Ash. The new coach wouldn't comment on which current assistants will stay on, but he is looking for coaches with character, a similar vision, and can build connections with players and recruits. He said he will meet with the current assistant coaches after the press conference.
After a season marred by off-the-field issues, many fans have been worried about the behavior of the players moving forward. Ash did his best to assuage those fears when he was asked what he demands of his student-athletes.
"What I'm looking for from our student athletes are commitment, accountability, great effort in everything that they do," Ash said. "I'm asking them to make great decisions. They have got to be a great teammate. They have got to be able to be trusted. And if we can do those things, then the rest will take care of itself."
Ash made it clear he is impressed with Rutgers, as he believes they have outstanding facilities, passionate fans and a strong tradition of winning built by Greg Schiano, who Ash said he has gotten to know over the past couple years, and whose brain Ash plans to pick some more to see what he can do to make the dream of bringing Rutgers back to its winning ways a reality.
The Ash Era is upon us, folks. And just one day in, there's certainly a lot to like. Ash seems like a great coach with a vision and a drive to make Rutgers the program we all want it to be.