Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs has been on the job a little more than four months now. He hired a new football coach and is using the R B1G Build to drive a 100 million dollar campaign for the athletic facilities project that was announced last year. While Hobbs stated once he hired the football coach his top priority would be fundraising for the facilities project, another priority is becoming more important with each day that passes in 2016.
A couple weeks ago, Keith Sargeant detailed the contracts of the head coaches for every Rutgers sports team here. Something that caught my eye was the number of head coaches for Rutgers sports that have contracts that expire at various points of 2016. Out of 20 head coaches within the Rutgers athletic department, 11 have contracts that expire this calendar year. The list doesn't even include Hobbs' impending decision on men's basketball, as Eddie Jordan's contract isn't set to expire until 2018. However, after a three year record of 29-67, Hobbs may make the decision to fire Jordan as early as this week, once the season is officially over.
We know making the facilities plan is Hobbs #1 long term goal. However, with all these coaching contracts expiring in 2016, what should Hobbs top priorities be regarding making those decisions? Here are my thoughts.
1) Replace Eddie Jordan as Men's Basketball Coach
Dave White and I have written at length this season, dating back to the embarrassing loss at home to Nebraska in early January, that it was time to replace Eddie Jordan. Dave has made a Sunday habit out of writing to Hobbs about why Eddie should be replaced. I even offered him a head start with a list of 20 candidates to consider for the job. Dave wanted to make it easy for Hobbs and offered that the search should start and end with Danny Hurley. Rutgers men's basketball is a national joke at the moment and Hobbs top priority needs to be to change the culture and perception of the program. The only way to do that is to replace Jordan. We know many AD's before him have tried to do the same at Rutgers and have failed. Will Hobbs change history and restore a once proud program once and for all? No matter who will become the next head coach, they will need time. One positive thought with Hobbs as the decision maker is the last time he hired a head men's basketball coach, it was Kevin Willard at Seton Hall. While it took a few years for him to make significant progress, Willard has the Hall poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. Time for Hobbs to go to bat again!
2) Give Wrestling Coach Scott Goodale a hefty raise and lengthy extension
After finishing the regular season with a #10 national ranking and an 7-3 record against ranked teams, Goodale's team continued to make waves this weekend at the Big Ten Championships. A fifth place finish and one conference champion was mighty impressive, and a major statement for Rutgers in the Big Ten. For all the talk about Rutgers not belonging in such a prestigious conference, Goodale has led his program to immediate success in perhaps the conference's most dominant sport. All that at the low price of $110K annually, along with some performance bonuses, make him a bargain! His contract is set to expire on June 30, 2016. Give this man a lot of years and even more money and watch him take the Rutgers wrestling program to heights never achieved before.
3) Give Women's Soccer Coach Mike O'Neill a hefty raise and lengthy extension
O'Neill's contract is set to expire after next season on December 31, 2016. The longtime assistant has put together an impressive 32-10-4 record in his two seasons as head coach. The women's soccer team went to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2014 and all the way to the College Cup (Final Four) in 2015. O'Neill's team finished with a #4 national ranking this past season, the best finish in program history. And he has the #12 recruiting class in the country coming in for next season. At a salary of $108,675, it should be an easy decision for Hobbs to give O'Neill a lengthy extension and significant raise.
4) Reward Progress Made in Men's Soccer & Men's Lacrosse
Two coaches who have had success in their most current seasons are men's soccer coach Dan Donigan and men's lacrosse coach Brian Brecht. Donigan led his team to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament and a final national ranking of #25. Brecht has led his squad to an impressive 5-0 start and a #16 national ranking. While Brecht sees his contract expire on June 30th and Donigan on December 31st, both warrant extensions. Both have endured losing seasons during their coaching tenures and despite any facilities improvement, they have made significant progress within their programs. Extend them both and believe they will only continue to improve the programs once better facilities are in place.
5) Weigh Facilities Issues for the Rest of Olympic Sports
Many of the other olympic sports have had varying degrees of success the past two seasons, but it is clear facility upgrades are desperately needed for them all. Knowing Hobbs understands this and has placed much importance on those plans, I would think he will be giving the benefit of the doubt to most of the other coaches whose contracts expire in 2016. Sports that have struggled in the transition to the Big Ten, like women's volleyball and women's lacrosse, would benefit greatly for facilities improvements. It's not just the revenue sports that are hurt by recruits comparing the current facilities with the rest of the Big Ten. Laura Brand-Sias, who is a Rutgers alumnus and has been the head coach of the women's lacrosse program for 14 seasons, has consistently had her players finish with a top APR score within the entire athletic department each year. After five consecutive seasons without a losing record, her team has struggled with the adjustment into the Big Ten. Women's volleyball coach CJ Werneke has experienced the same issues, going from double digit win seasons to struggling in the mighty Big Ten. Like Brand-Sias, Werneke's teams have posted strong APR scores as well. Sports like Track & Field and Tennis have also suffered without dedicated facilities. Unless there are issues that are not public, reinvesting in these coaches and giving them tools to succeed with facilities upgrades make sense in the long term.
In regards to my opinion with the olympic sports and the need for time and facilities in regards to their head coaches being extended, there are a few reasons why this is different for Eddie Jordan and men's basketball. One, I argue the transition from the Big East to the Big Ten in men's basketball was a lateral move, not a step up in competition like it was for most of the olympic sports. Two, there have been suspensions to the two best players on the team this season, not a positive development. Third, while facilities would greatly benefit recruiting, it is not suffering solely because of that reason. Eddie Jordan recruited pretty well in his second and third seasons, but has put together worse teams each season.
As for women's basketball coach, C.Vivian Stringer, there was some chatter earlier this season that Rutgers should move on from the hall of fame coach because of recent regression with her program. True, we are likely looking at three of the past four seasons without a trip to the NCAA Tournament. However, Stringer has had the most successful long term run of any Rutgers coach in any sport in recent memory. Just because Rutgers wouldn't owe her anything past April 30th if they parted ways, doesn't mean they should. While it's disappointing the women's team will not make another March Madness run this season, they will finish with a winning record. Stringer has two years left on her contract, there is no reason to make replacing her now a priority.
An example of a head coach that gets little publicity or acknowledgement is Lou Levine of the women's gymnastics team. His practice facility is comprised of the far end of the RAC and yet he routinely sells out the Livingston Gym for meets. Rutgers recently beat athletic department powerhouses Maryland and North Carolina this season. Levine is a no brainer to receive an extension and hopefully receive some help in the near future with facilities.
It's easy to get caught up in just football and basketball, but Hobbs has a job to do in supporting every athletic program Rutgers has. Many of these programs, led by their coaches, have endured a lot of challenges in transitioning to the Big Ten and little help from the previous athletic director. The sooner the big revenue sports succeed and the closer Rutgers gets to a full share of the Big Ten annual payout, the more help all of the olympic programs will receive. Hobbs has a huge job ahead of him, and he needs to secure leadership at the top of over half his athletic programs in 2016. Hopefully, he retains most of the coaches in place and continues to build support for all of the athletic programs Rutgers offers. It will take time for Rutgers to gain respect among the other Big Ten schools, but strong leadership from Hobbs with all of our athletic programs will move us in the right direction.
RU is 1 of 2 universities to have men's & women's soccer, wrestling & men's lacrosse ranked in 2015-16 coaches polls pic.twitter.com/m1Qct524t0— Rutgers Athletics (@RUAthletics) March 3, 2016