Last Wednesday night, the Rutgers athletics department held a town hall event for students featuring athletic director Pat Hobbs and football head coach Chris Ash. I don't ever remember this kind of event ever being held before at Rutgers,. It was another example of the access and transparency of the Hobbs era, a much welcomed changed from the previous athletic administration. It also demonstrates the overall school pride they are trying to generate and making the students part of the overall athletic experience.
Longtime reader of OTB, contributor for our friends at Off Tackle Empire, and our friend Zuzu is a Rutgers senior and attended the town hall event. She recently wrote this excellent piece on the past troubles at Rutgers and why change has set our sports teams up well for the future. I asked Zuzu some questions regarding the Town Hall event and here is what she had to say.
How was the town hall marketed to students? Was there any buzz beforehand?
I personally found out via emails that were sent to all students (at least ones that are still subscribed to RU Athletics emails). They emailed us in in early March, last week, and even the day of. That last email advertised "FREE Pizza." These marketing folks sure get college students! The RU Athletics Twitter and Facebook accounts had the event listed as well. I felt it was solidly promoted with some chatter here and there of, "yo, you going to that thing on Wednesday with new coach?" A ton of the buzz was to get there early to receive these cool journals they were giving to the first 75 people.
How was the turnout and how well did you feel the event was executed?
The turnout and execution were great! A small piece of the drumline and a concert-style lights and mist archway with red lights and balloons welcomed the students as they walked into the venue. You walked in, signed in with your name and email, and there was a DJ playing, and TONS of locally catered Gerlanda's Pizza on the back wall. Each seat had papers advertising upcoming events on it. Before it all started they handed out shirts (pictured below along with the journal I got). My only complaint is that they were all extra-larges.... oh well, free shirt, right?
Coach Ash, his wife, Doreen, and Pat Hobbs hung out at the back of the room for about 20 minutes before the 8:00 start. They were shaking hands and taking pictures with the students who realized that they were the main event. They were very relaxed and friendly. I talked with Coach Ash for a moment and we even joked about students just being there for the free pizza. I also thanked Pat Hobbs for all that he's done in such a short amount of time and how I attribute so much of our recent positive changes to him. He was very appreciative. No one was mobbing either of them, but word eventually got around to everyone that they were just both casually walking around so "lines" for pictures started.
When the event commenced, all seats were more than filled (I shared mine with a friend) and there were tons of people standing. I think the building was filled to its legal maximum (which is a lot). The set up where Hobbs and Ash would be was simple, but nice. It didn't look thrown together. It was kind of like a talk show stage as you can see below.
Ash and Hobbs began the event, of course, by starting an "RRRRR-UUUU" chant. It was very cliche' (but great) with the whole, "I thought I said loud?" kind of starts and repeats. Very fun! Pat had the "RRRRR" side and Coach had the "UUUUU" side. They were both competing and actually really started to get into it with each other too! After is opening they both said some incredibly meaningful words of how important the students were in the team's success and the athletics Game Day experience. It stood out to me how this new generation of Rutgers athletics leaders actually concern themselves with us-- the past never did.
Pat Hobbs said something really impactful:
"We're all Rutgers University... We all have a role to play in our success... You need to wake up every day and say, 'I'm going to further Rutgers University today' and go to sleep asking yourself, 'did I further Rutgers University today?' If you can answer 'yes,' then we're already on our way."
(My 95% accurate paraphrasing)
There were, surprisingly, no technical difficulties or glitches... things that usually happen at Rutgers events...
The event was marvelously executed from start to finish.
We know you are a proud member of the Rutgers Marching Band and asked Ash and Hobbs a related questions about it. What did you ask and what was their response?
You know it! Very sad to be graduating since next year has some great new changes and things happening with the band (no spoilers). However, it's good to know that the band will be doing great things!
My question was, "With you, Chris Ash, coming from Ohio State and the Big Ten where they have some of the greatest and most established marching bands in the country, is there any way you look to further incorporate the marching band into the football Game Day experience?"
His response highlighted how much he values the full game day experience and the role he sees the marching band having in it.
There was talk about the football uniforms, what was said and should fans expect a change this season?
He basically said that, yes, he is changing them to something more along the lines of Rutgers "classic" and that he is sure fans will be happy with them. He too commented on not being able to see the silver numbers. (I personally like our uniforms because I'm a fan of themes, in this case a "knight theme," but the majority of the fan base hates them, so I guess they gotta change...)
How did Ash and Hobbs come across during the forum and was there anything that surprised you?
I would use the word chill to describe them. It was clear they weren't feeling the pressure of the usual media when it comes to questions. (Though, some students were asking some on point, high impact questions about things like the subsidy, exact methods to make us good, facilities, recovering from the negatives of last season, ACTUALLY waking the sleeping giant, recruiting, and financial benefits of the Big Ten). They seemed to happy to be there and happy to answer questions and answered them very thoroughly and complete. Ash even noted that he brought his wife to NJ, so she could experience Rutgers and that this was a good event for her to see exactly that. Pat Hobbs was asked a question about his favorite part of the job and he said, "this right here. Interacting with the students."
Something that did surprise me was seeing Chris Ash get a wee bit defensive when a student asked him for advice on how to land someone as "aesthetically appealing as your wife." In a stern, but truthfully helpful way he sort of ripped the kid apart, but it was funny and the room burst out laughing at the whole exchange. There were lots of laughs throughout the whole night to be honest. It was great.
Did Ash set any expectations for the upcoming football season?
No truly tangible expectations for the team itself in the sense that he didn't give exact hopeful win numbers, who we want to beat, and whether or not we go to a bowl game, BUT he said that the culture has already changed in the TEAM as they enter spring practice. He said, "the team made a fool out of me today. Back when we started training I said that this will not be the same time by Spring practice. The same people won't be here. Some of you will think it's too hard and quit. But no one quit. They all took the challenge." (more of my paraphrasing).
He did set expectations for the students and fans, though. He echoed Pat Hobbs in saying that we all have a role to play in the team's success. He put that pressure on the students, the band, the cheerleaders, the dance team, and the fans to be B1G, essentially, and make High point Solutions Stadium one of the most intense places to have a game in. We need to create that home field advantage, he said.
Chris Ash is an impressive person and an impressive coach. The team he assembled is equally as impressive. Next season is gonna be something and I think those expectations have been set just by them all being here.
I read Hobbs was asked a question or started a debate about the proper name for the breakfast sandwich choice of New Jersey, the pork roll v. taylor ham? What did Ash and Hobbs say? What is your answer?
Yes, the RUSA (Rutgers University Student Assembly) president, who was the moderator for the event, closed with that as the final question. Pat Hobbs, being the lovely North Jersey man that he is said Taylor Ham. I'd say half the room cheered. Ash, had no true opinion on the matter and was pretty much given the role of pork roll supporter for the sake conversation. The rest of the room cheered.
To be honest, I don't care either way. I grew up saying Taylor Ham, learned of the existence of pork roll when I got to Rutgers and I say whichever is listed on the menu dependent on wherever I am. I Tweeted the day after the event and said that saying Taylor Ham over pork roll is the same as saying Band-Aid over bandage and Crock-Pot over slow cooker. THERE IS NO MAJOR DIFFERENCE IN USING AN ESTABLISHED BRAND NAME VS. THE GENERIC.
Were there any other interesting or noteworthy questions that stick out in your mind?
A student asked if Rutgers may find itself in a position where we have to cut some sports to keep our current ones afloat or to add something like hockey. Pat responded saying that he has been in a situation where he's had to make this difficult decision and cut sports, and sometimes it has to be done. However, he said, and this is an actual quote, "we're not cutting sports." Let's hope he stands by that any number of years from now when things might get tough.
Another student asked Chris Ash about how he plans on keeping Jersey residents at home. His answer was great! He started off by saying that he first asks a potential recruit, "why not Rutgers?" Then he proceeded to answer all hypothetical reasons with, "no you're not."
"Are you gonna get a better education? No you're not. Are you gonna get a better experience? No you're not. Are you gonna get better coached? No you're not." It was great.
I really like Ash's rough and intense style. It's almost like he was destined for Jersey.
Overall what were your overall assessment of this event? What were other students saying? How would you rate this event in regards to everything you have experienced in your four years at Rutgers?
10/10. Made me sad to be a senior. All of my friends who went thought the event was great and the entire crowd stayed right to the end and a ton lingered afterwards for signatures, hand shakes, and pictures. The ravings of those who attended made a lot of students say, "I wish I went!"
I've been at Rutgers for nearly four years and this event shot right to the top as one of my favorite experiences in my college career. It was an event filled with Rutgers pride, not just football, not just athletics, but Rutgers. Both said many times what a world-class research institution Rutgers is and how we have all of the ingredients to be great in every way.
"We are in the best conference. I didn't say athletics conference. I said best conference. You won't find any conference with better athletics and academics." -Pat Hobbs
This event supercharged my passion for RU just in time for the final stretch of my Rutgers career. Great, great event by Rutgers Athletics.
Next up is an event that Chris Ash heavily advertised-- the first ever "Student Appreciation Day." April 16th, in the Bubble. There will be giveaways, kicking contests, and even a contest to see who the fastest student at Rutgers is. The players will be there mingling with the students. Sounds like a fun time! Coach said, "if the same amount of people show up there for this event, I will be severely disappointed." I imagine Rutgers is going to start heavily advertising that one... Can't disappoint Chris Ash.
Thanks to Zuzu for taking the time to share her experience at this past week's Town Hall Event. You can follow her on twitter @ZuzuFire108 and check out her work with our friends at Off Tackle Empire.
"I'm tired of hearing people say 'that does not happen at Rutgers.' Stop. It's going to happen." -Pat Hobbs— Rutgers Athletics (@RUAthletics) March 24, 2016
"The game day experience that YOU create is our best recruitment tool." Pat Hobbs on the atmosphere @RutgersU students can provide.— Rutgers Athletics (@RUAthletics) March 24, 2016
I had a BLAST at the @RUAthletics town hall event. Truly. One of the highlights of this senior's Rutgers career.— Zuzu RU (@ZuzuFire108) March 24, 2016