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A Tale of Two Football Staffs: Rutgers v. Maryland

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Rutgers and Maryland will always be linked and compared to each other: what can we learn from comparing their new coaching staffs?

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan
DJ Durkin, watching his team get stomped by his former Wolverine players.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers and Maryland joined the Big Ten at the same time, and for that reason, will always and forever be linked, compared and analyzed against each other. This year, both schools also hired new football coaching staffs, with very different philosophies and personnel decisions. And both programs have struggled this year, especially against the blue bloods of the conference. What have we learned after year 1?

The new men at the top have similar pedigrees, and in some respects, seem like different sides of the same coin. Chris Ash most recently served as D-Coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer; DJ Durkin served in the same role at arch-rival Michigan, under Jim Harbaugh. Their prior gigs are also similarly impressive, with Ash serving stints at Wisconsin, Arkansas and Iowa State, and Durkin logging time at Florida, Stanford and Notre Dame.

Personnel Philosophy

Where the men differ most, at least so far, is how they approached filling out their coaching staffs. Durkin hired 3 former head coaches as assistants, including Mike London (UVA, Asst. HC/DL), Pete Lembo (Ball State, Asst. HC/ST Coordinator/TE), and for a brief period before resigning for personal reasons, Scott Shafer (Cuse, D-Coordinator). That obvious emphasis on experience has an upside, in that Durkin can learn from those coaches’ many years of experience in different situations and places, but there is also several potential risks in that approach. The first potential downside is a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen problem: all these former head coaches got where they are by doing things a certain way, and may be resistant to change, especially on orders from a head coach who hasn’t been in the big chair before this year. The other potential downside is distance in age and experience from the kids they are trying to recruit and coach, but plenty of gray-haired coaches have won big in college football, so I don’t want to oversell that factor.

Chris Ash went in exactly the opposite direction, valuing potential but unproven stars like 28-year-old Drew Mehringer and Offensive Line Coach AJ Blazek; staff cohesiveness; and personal chemistry over grizzled veterans and former head coaches. Recruits rave about the personal bonds they have formed with this staff, and their Twitter game is next level. However, given the team’s performance this year, there are clearly growing pains for the young staff, as the young coaches, and Mehringer in particular, have been the objects of significant criticism and doubt as to whether they are in over their heads.

On Field Performance

How did the teams stack up on the field and in recruiting this year? Maryland has a slight edge in win/loss loss comparisons. Both teams got walloped by the Buckeyes and Wolverines, but Maryland beat Michigan State and put up two more TDs against Penn State than RU did. In those four games, Rutgers didn’t score a point, and gave up 224 points (and approximately 14,563,964 yards). Maryland got outscored 176-48 in those games, and has not been shut out in any game this year.

Rounding out the common opponents, both teams trounced Howard, and lost to Indiana and Minnesota. Overall, Maryland sits at 5-6, compared to Rutgers’ 2-9. It’s hard to envision Maryland going on the road to Seattle and doing much better than RU did against Washington, and RU could have been ok against UCF (Maryland’s toughest non-con opponent), so if those games and results were swapped, the records would be closer than they appear now, and equally lousy, with MSU being the difference (4-7 v. 3-8). The teams are pretty close on balance, and both need significant improvements to be competitive with the top (and maybe also the middle) of the conference.

Recruiting

Although it’s a long way to signing day in February, Maryland also seems to have a modest edge in 2017 recruiting. Rivals ranks the Terps’ class of 2017 at number 13 right now, with 21 total commitments, 1 five-star, 3 four-star and 15 three-star recruits. Rutgers is currently ranked 33, with 18 total commits, 0 five-star, 3 four-star and 12 three stars. Star rankings are obviously not dispositive or guaranteed to perform as advertised, but these classes are probably closer than a 20 point rankings difference might indicate. Most of the difference here is coming from a) the inclusion of five star DE Josh Kaindoh, a Florida native who is not going to be guaranteed to the Terps until he signs on the line; and b) three more total commits for the Terps (volume counts in these rankings). Rutgers likely won’t land a five-star in this class but could add a number of four-stars, including Markquese Bell, who is scheduled to decide between OSU, Maryland and Rutgers next week. There is some speculation that Rutgers could take a class as big as 30 players this year, to make up for anticipated transfers and other attrition, so that would bump the Knights up in the rankings too.

Conclusion

It’s hard to say, after year one, which coaching staff has the edge. Maryland’s on-field performance has been better, but still not bowl-worthy, and the new Terps staff probably inherited more talent than Chris Ash did. The Terps also have a modest temporary lead in the recruiting rankings. There is a long way to go until we can fully evaluate which program took the best path, but it will remain an interesting discussion for a few years at least.

Enjoy the game, Happy Thanksgiving, and GO KNIGHTS!