The audacity of the concept*. That’s what fans hold on to, even at the darkest moments their teams face. And when a new coach comes in, that is—quite possibly—when a fanbase’s hope is at its highest.
So, as Steve Pikiell has his team practicing for real now, fans are holding on to hope. Even after Pikiell’s telling—and somewhat worrisome—interview with Jerry Carino last week. Rutgers fans hope that Pikiell can erase some of the embarrassment of the past decade and start building toward something meaningful.
Now, football fans were hopeful going into this season as well. After two rough years under Kyle Flood, fans hoped that Chris Ash’s football mind, dedication and organization would be enough to put a bowl bound team on the field. However, after two blowouts in five games, the hope oozing from Rutgers’ fans is now starting to ebb a bit (at least judging by comments and message board posts. Also, do I have to add this? Probably—NOT ALL FANS).
Those message board posts and comments are often unfair. The Ash teams have had some flashes and injuries haven’t helped, either.
Chris Ash knew what he had when he walked in here, and not only does he have to restock the talent and depth, but also the talent he does have does not fit the scheme he wants to run. Essentially, this team is not ready for primetime, but it is still primed for a 4-8 season, likely matching the output from last year.
All is not lost, but it may not reach the heights some fans strived for before the first kickoff.
However, at this point with Steve Pikiell, hope still reigns. And, quite frankly, for Pikes the bar is much lower. After fans watched 3 years and only 31 total wins, disorganized play and so many blowouts I can hardly count them, there’s not much Pikiell couldn’t do and make this squad look better.
Rutgers hoops’ fans hope hangs on this: The basketball team has to look like a basketball team on the court. They need to defend and rebound, something all of Pikiell’s Stony Brook squads have done. They need to play hard every single game (something the football team has done). And they need to win the games they’re supposed to.
These three keys should lead to somewhere around 12 wins... five more than last season. And if Rutgers is in games this season, if there isn’t reason for fans to leave at the 16 minute mark of the second half, that is progress.
That’s how low the bar is.
Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell face much different expectations, much different jobs and much different challenges. Ash takes over a team that has had some recent success and it has skewed the fanbase. Pikiell takes over a team with no expectations.
Either way, hope and patience need to settle into a fans’ bones. Hope always shines through, as does the belief that both teams will one day be successful in the Big Ten. There are plenty of signs it will happen here, from Ash’s big time recruiting to Steve Pikeill’s practice regimen.
The audacity of hope. Sometimes it leads to greatness and sometimes it can fall just short.
But it’s too early to step back now. Will both coaches have to answer difficult questions at times?
But both coaches need time to get their feet wet, get their ideas and philosophies in place and keep building.
The bar is high for both coaches in the long term. But for now, Pikiell’s bar is much easier to cross. But the hope is, he and Chris Ash will cross them.
*Hat tip to the President’s book for this phrase.
Dave White is a die hard Rutgers basketball fan and author of the Jackson Donne series of thrillers set in and around New Brunswick, NJ. The latest, Blind to Sin, is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.