Last week was a big one for Rutgers football coach Chris Ash, as he signed his first recruiting class on the banks. However, lost in the shuffle was this bit of news:
Assistant coach Zak Kuhr, the former offensive coordinator and running backs coach at James Madison, was originally hired as the wide receivers coach by Ash back in late December. When Ash introduced his coaching staff in January, he had yet to fill the running backs coaching position. This move was not a surprise for one beat writer who follows the team.
One thing to keep in mind as final assistant spot remains open: Zak Kuhr gives Ash flexibility. Could move Kuhr to RB coach if necessary.— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) January 6, 2016
Here is what Ash said about the move during his press conference on national signing day:
"Little bit about our program update. Some of you guys have heard this but we made a coaching switch. We hired a new coach, Jafar Williams came over from Purdue and made a coaching switch. We are going to Jafar to coach the wide receivers, and Zak Kuhr, who was hired here in December before we got here, will switch and go back to his natural position of running backs. That's what Zak has coached for the majority of his years in coaching, and I think that will be the best fit for our staff and players moving forward. Jafar played wide receiver, has coached wide receivers. And very excited about the switch and transition with our offensive staff there."
Even though the switch was announced on national signing day, it was in the works for a few days. I don't think this move had anything to do with Rutgers losing two wide receiver commits this past week, as Isaiah Wright flipped to Temple and Taysir Mack flipped to Indiana. Ultimately, it came down to experience and what coach Ash felt was the best fit for the team moving forward. Credit Ash with swiftly making a change that he felt was necessary.
In terms of the personnel within the running back and wide receiver positional groups, Kuhr inherits a much more accomplished and established core of players . With Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, along with backups Justin Goodwin and Desmond Peoples, coach Kuhr will have a veteran group to teach the spread offense to. Ash cited Kuhr's experience in previously working in this spread offense, as a reason why he is a fit on his staff. Kuhr worked under offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer at James Madison, before running it himself after Mehringer left of Houston.
Chris Ash on hiring Zak Kuhr as Rutgers' WRs coach: "His knowledge and understanding of our offense will be important in the teaching ...— Greg Johnson (@gregp_j) December 26, 2015
Moving Williams to coach the wide receivers make sense, as he has much more experience at that position than Kuhr does. While Williams coached running backs the past five years, he played wide receiver at Maryland from 2000-2003 and coached that position for a long time. On the flip side, the only position group Kuhr has ever coached was running backs. They both are essentially coaching in their natural spots with this switch.
The wide receiver group does have established veterans in Janarion Grant, Carlton Agudosi, Andre Patton, and John Tsimis. However, their production was far less consistent last season. The transition to the spread offense for both positions will be extensive. Moving Williams and Kuhr to their positions of strength makes the most sense from a teaching perspective.
I think Williams ability to work with Grant is a major key and something to be excited about. Williams coached the explosive Dri Archer at Kent State in 2011 and 2012, who became an All-American their last season together. Rutgers fans should remember that 2012 season, as Archer and Kent State ended Rutgers undefeated 7-0 start. During that season, Archer had 1429 rushing yards, 561 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns. In addition, Archer averaged 36.9 yards on kickoff returns and ran three back for touchdowns. While Archer was primarily a running back, his speed and versatility is comparable to Grant. Williams will now be tasked with mentoring Grant and getting the most out of his abilities, something that the previous coaching staff failed to do. When hearing what offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer had to say about Grant back in January, it's obvious he will be a major part of the offense this season:
"Me and Coach Ash, we were on a phone call with him the other day. Had a great conversation with him, talking about, We're going to ask you to do a couple things. If you open your heart up and allow us to coach you, we're going to put you in a position to be successful. It's not for you, the lack of ability obviously. We've seen that on the field. But for you it's going to be whether or not you're open and willing to give us your heart and be coached and become part of this program.
If you're willing to do that, you look at the people that have played that position, they've all been very, very successful for six, seven eight years now. If you're willing to do that, if you're willing to be open to that, some really cool things are ahead of you. But if you're not, we're going to struggle a little bit from that standpoint.We all want the same things. We want Janarion Grant to be successful. We want him to have the success he dreams of on the field. For us to do that, first you have to be open to the coaching, the new culture, the things that Coach Ash is bringing into this program."
It's likely that Williams will have Grant's full attention and has the experience of mentoring Archer as a major selling point for him. Williams will also need to get more production out of Agudosi and Patton, who have both shown flashes in their careers, but have lacked consistency. Tsimis is returning from injury and could have a key role playing the slot position.
Another benefit in having Williams on the staff is he has local recruiting connections in South Jersey. He is from Philadelphia and has recruited the area when he coached at Kent State and Purdue. In this article, Wiliams had this to say, ""Visiting with some of the coaches — I'll obviously recruit the South Jersey area and Philadelphia — a lot of them always said there wasn't a consistent face (from Rutgers) that was going to be around," Williams said. "I've recruited that area before at other schools. I'm familiar with a lot of the coaches, I'm familiar with the area so I think that helps." While Ash has been criticized for not hiring any assistant coaches that are from New Jersey, Williams gives the staff a seasoned recruiter in an area of the state Rutgers desperately needs to improve on. It was also a savvy move by Ash in getting Williams to leave a fellow Big Ten school, Purdue, and join his own staff.
Rutgers announced yesterday that the start of spring practice will be March 24th. Now that the 2016 recruiting cycle has passed, the coaching staff's primary focus is getting ready for spring ball, which concludes with the Scarlet-White game on April 23rd under the lights at High Point Solutions Stadium. With Ash having his staff in the roles he deems best for the program, now the real test begins. Preparing this team for the 2016 season.