Let's be honest, the perception of Rutgers in the Big Ten has been shaped negatively over the past year due to the disastrous seasons of the football and men's basketball teams. Other Big Ten schools have bemoaned Rutgers being in their sacred conference and the national media and general public has referred to our beloved school as a "dumpster fire." (search on twitter, there are countless mentions sadly.) Unfortunately, over the past few years the basketball program, along with football this past year, scandal and losing have given credence to that opinion, and social media has certainly spread the word. However, in just over four months, things are drastically different at Rutgers and hope for the future has never been brighter. There is one reason why and it is because Pat Hobbs is the athletic director.
Think back to the late afternoon of Saturday, November 28th, 2015. Rutgers football just blew a 21 point lead at home on senior day to Maryland. The men's basketball team had limped home from two double digit losses in Las Vegas to Creighton and Clemson and were just 3-3, showing signs of implosion. Hope was few and far between, even for the most optimistic of fans. And then it happened. President Robert Barchi acted the next day, axing Julie Hermann and Kyle Flood, all while inking Hobbs as the new athletic director. Since that Sunday in late November, the following has happened within the Rutgers Athletic department:
- Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash was hired as Football coach.
- The R B1G Build fundraising campaign was started.
- Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell was hired as men's basketball coach.
- Transparency is present within the athletic department with a marketing campaign that includes email letters to fans and alumni, social media marketing, and student forums.
- President Barchi addressed the football team regarding player responsibility and their impact on Rutgers University.
- Streamlining of strength & conditioning program for entire athletic department with hiring of David Van Dyke.
- Alignment and support of head coaches between multiple sports, most notably with Ash, Pikiell, and wrestling head coach Scott Goodale.
All of this has happened in just over four months. The failures of 2015 now look like a blessing for Rutgers, as the arrival of Hobbs as athletic director has put the school's athletic department on a path for future success within the Big Ten. Without the scandals, arrests, and non-competitive conference play of the football team, along with epic losing by the men's basketball team, it's likely the major changes that have occurred never would have. It wasn't until Rutgers became a national punchline that President Barchi changed his attitude towards athletics and sprung into action. Our own Bob Cancro covered this very well in great detail here.
So what does this mean for the future? A common, lazy thought during both high profile coaching searches regarding football and basketball was no coach worth his salt would ever want to go to Rutgers. Obviously, a lack of administrative and financial support over the years was a major reason for this mindset. However, it's obvious in Hobbs short tenure that the lack of support is a thing of the past, and that a cohesive plan to align the entire athletic department is now in place. More telling, was that he was able to sell talented coaches with proven success that the "same old Rutgers" was no more.
Hobbs has completely reshaped the way the Rutgers athletics department operates. There is transparency and there is action being made to improve athletic facilities for the entire department. Hobbs is an experienced fundraiser and negotiator with strong political acumen in New Jersey. Hobbs has displayed a vision for elevating the entire Rutgers athletic department to a Big Ten level and is already putting it into action.
The hiring of David Van Dyke as the assistant athletic director for strength & conditioning is proof of such an alignment. There is at least publicly, more cohesion between all of the Rutgers sports than ever before. Having player development regarding strength & conditioning for all sports overseen by one person who has the expertise and experience does that in a critical way. Hobbs has a vision of the "Rutgers Way" and we are watching him build it brick by brick right now.
There is no more fly by the seat of your pants decision making. There are no more athletic directors or coaches in over their head. Hobbs is demonstrating that not only by his own actions, but by who he is hiring as well. Chris Ash has clearly planned for an opportunity to be a head coach for years, all while becoming an accomplished assistant and defensive mastermind. He has been vocal to that fact regarding his preparation and was up front in wanting to master that plan under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Steve Pikiell learned from a hall of fame coach who engineered one of the best turnarounds in college basketball history at UConn. He then implemented his own turnaround at Stony Brook. There is always a risk with any hire, but Hobbs is clearly making decisions grounded in a past history of proven results.
Rutgers entered the Big Ten without a comprehensive plan to build the entire athletic department to a level that it would be consistently competitive in its new power conference. That is no longer the case, as we finally have a clear leader who not only has the ability to craft a long term plan, but he knows how to successfully execute that plan as well.
There is still a long way to go and Rutgers has a lot of catching up to do within the Big Ten. The best part of right now is that every Rutgers supporter should have hope for the future. Not unbridled, blind faith, but belief that the right people are in place to bring Rutgers success on the field, while representing the university and community in a proper way we can all be proud of. Programs like women's soccer with head coach Mike O'Neill and wrestling with head coach Scott Goodale have been bright spots in an otherwise dark cloud. The next step for Rutgers athletics is for the success of those programs to be the new normal, and no longer the exception.
This is truly an exciting time to be a fan of Rutgers sports. There were already good people in place and good things happening within the athletic department previously. Based on early results, we now have the right leader to elevate the good that is currently in place, and to make the necessary improvements within the entire department that are needed. Simply, there should be one mantra moving forward: In Hobbs We Trust!