The day fit the situation.
A bright, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The beginning of spring - traditionally a period of rebirth and fresh starts. That's exactly what I began to think about when I stepped out of my car at the RAC on Tuesday morning.
As I approached our beloved truncated pyramid, it hit me that this was the first time I was walking into the building for a men's basketball-related event without feeling an overwhelming sense of shame, dread, or embarrassment. I was actually feeling, dare I say it, hopeful.
The Pikiell Era is upon us.
I arrived at the RAC pretty early - I was among the first people in the building - so I took in the silence and gazed at the set-up. A few rows of seats on the court set up for the press, an empty podium, and a backdrop with the familiar block "R" logo for the photo op.
What I appreciated more than anything else, however, was the slideshow on the jumbotron. The slides displayed words of praise from several of Pikiell's coaching colleagues, including UConn legend Jim Calhoun, Indiana's Tom Crean, and Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
Now, is Pikiell the flashiest hire? Is he the biggest name? No. Quite frankly, a program that has struggled in recent years, is as facility-deficient, and has a lack of history like Rutgers is never going to land the big name. And yet, I still feel like Pat Hobbs got this one right.
Clearly, I wasn't the only one who was curious what our next head coach had to say, as several fans filed in and took their seats for the event.
Rutgers certainly did their part to make this feel like a big deal. The marching band was there to play the coach in. Dozens of media members, including the Voice of the Scarlet Knights, Chris Carlin, were in attendance. Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer was seated in the crowd. Even fellow newcomer Chris Ash took time out of his schedule to welcome in the new era.
In fact, here's a photo of Coach Ash conversing with the common folk, shaking hands with a dashing young bearded man.
RUTGERS FOOTBALL COACHING STAFF. CHRIS ASH IS SHAKING SOMEONE'S HAND. pic.twitter.com/UnUav59uiu— Zuzu RU (@ZuzuFire108) March 22, 2016
The who's who of Rutgers athletics was in attendance, giving this event an appropriate, monumental feel. When the clock struck noon, the band played, and in came president Bob Barchi, AD Pat Hobbs, and the man of the hour, Coach Steve Pikiell.
And then they spoke, which you can read about right here, here, and here.
Personally, my biggest takeaway from Coach Pikiell's introductory press conference was his optimism and realism.
There is reason to be optimistic about this hire. Pikiell has a history of going from worst to first, with his Stony Brook tenure serving as a perfect example. He took a program that had never sniffed the postseason and made them a perennial postseason team. The Seawolves have reached the postseason in six of the last seven years, including their first ever NCAA appearance this season.
So while he's done it before, he also acknowledges that it will be a challenge. During his Q&A with the media, one reporter even noted how he said the word "challenge" countless times. He's not pulling the wool over our eyes and painting a perfect picture of a team that will fight for the Big Ten title next year (although we'd welcome that).
He acknowledges it will be difficult, but with a strong effort from everyone involved, including the administration and fans, this team can go dancing sooner rather than later.
I also loved the coach's emphasis on family, as he spoke glowingly of his four children, who were all in attendance for his big day. After the presser, his kids were off to the side, playing pick-up with current Rutgers guard Mike Williams - a nice example of his family meeting RFamily.
I'm not the only one who thinks Coach Pikiell won the press conference, as I spoke with a few fans in attendance to get their thoughts.
"I think it's going to be a project, but I think we got the right guy," were the words of Mike Keelen, the director of marketing for the Rutgers Riot Squad. "This might be the optimistic fan in me talking...I think a postseason berth might be a little closer than a lot of people think."
Season ticket holder Joe Demetor echoed Mike's optimism, saying "I'm really optimistic about where this program can go in the next couple years."
When I asked Joe when he realistically expects a postseason berth, he replied, "NIT, I think next year...NCAA, three years."
He thinks the pieces are falling into place, saying, "They have their work cut out for them, but what they have going for them is a great marketplace and an athletic administration under Pat Hobbs that is willing to commit to making this program be as competitive as it needs to be on a national scale."
After the press conference, I had the chance to speak briefly with Coach Pikiell, and right away I was impressed by his approachability, positive attitude, and understanding of what it takes to succeed.
He mentioned the importance of fans, the band, the students, and the atmosphere, and he's looking forward to getting to learn more about each of those aspects here at Rutgers. Immediately, I gathered Pikiell "gets it" in regards to what being a college basketball coach is about in a way I feel Eddie Jordan never did.
Time will tell if Coach Pikiell can turn around this program in the way he says and the fans hope, but right now, the future looks bright.
Appropriately, Joe's first words when I spoke with him were, "It's a new day."
Yes, it is.