Editor's Note: This article is written by former OTB managing editor RU Scoop.
Rutgers football fans are understandably pleased that Chris Ash and staff appear to be having a strong early start on class of 2017 recruiting. Rutgers has secured a number of high profile early non-binding pledges, and is rumored to lead for several more top players. The majority of those recruits are in state (and especially in southern New Jersey), making the effort doubly impressive given how over-saturated and competitive New Jersey football recruiting is, and how poorly the previous staff under Kyle Flood had fallen behind on all fronts.
That angle is interesting enough on its own, before being coupled with the ever-stirring hornets' nest that is northern New Jersey parochial school football. Specifically, a lot of the spotlight has been on a quartet of Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, and St. Joe's of Bergen County, along with St. Peter's Prep from Jersey City. These programs (including their equivalents in other sports) - specifically, Don Bosco and St. Peter's, have been among the most successful local high school football powers of recent memory, which will inevitably attract some level of scrutiny, warranted or not.
In this case, that scrutiny has come in spades, with a litany of allegations that the North Jersey powers were violating state regulations by directly soliciting and enticing top players to attend their programs. They claim that this is hogwash; that players naturally want to attend successful programs in order to play football at a higher level and attract attention from college recruiters. That has been disputed by a plethora of allegations from the media and public high schools - most notably including a direct allegation from Anthony Davis, the most prominent star to graduate from perennial public school power Piscataway.
Beyond the recruiting issue, a lot of this resentment stems from a perceived sense of entitlement and unwarranted snootiness. St. Peter's Prep is a very strong academic school, but some of the other parochials are not. New Jersey public schools run the gamut in quality, but the very cream of the crop - many of which are located in Bergen County - are among the best in the nation, with many being much stronger than their parochial counterparts. Parochial schools can be widely disliked even when football isn't a factor - in Central Jersey, people are indifferent to Bishop Ahr and Union Catholic, but St. Joe's of Metuchen and Immaculata are loathed - but sports just compound this factor.
Then came Paramus Catholic to upset the apple cart. The Paladins had fallen off significantly since the late 90s, and that started changing with Chris Partridge's ability to upgrade their roster, convincing the likes of Jabrill Peppers and Rashaun Gary to transfer in. Their turnaround was quickly met with howls of protest from their rivals, and ironically, charges of recruiting. To many Rutgers fans and public school partisans, including myself, these allegations were laughably hypocritical. They're asking for honor among thieves now? It's okay to mine saps like us, but they need a gentleman's agreement? I was just as happy to see their fratricide, and wished the worst of luck to all of them.
Partridge's success had come to the attention of Kyle Flood, who was looking to stem his increasingly ineffective coaching on the field, and struggles with recruiting off of it. Last year, Flood and Partridge were rumored to have reached a deal for Partridge to join the Rutgers staff as recruiting coordinator, before as in many supposed "done deals" under Flood, things spectacularly fell apart at the 11th hour due to a series of incompetent unforced errors. In this case, coaches like Greg Toal of Bosco and Rich Hansen of St. Peter's supposedly vetoed the hire. (High school coaches in New Jersey traditionally have had a lot of influence on the Rutgers program, having supposedly pushed for the hiring of Greg Schiano, and of Flood over Steve Addazio - only to later turn on Flood.)
Whether or not Partridge would have been a good hire is open to debate - prospects love him, while the likes of Hansen and Toal hate him. What is clear is that Flood, as was his repeated nature, showed no backbone in backing down from his decision. This increased the prevailing perception that Flood was weak; a lame duck almost certain to be fired at the earliest opportunity. The newly-hired Jim Harbaugh at Michigan sensed opportunity and quickly swooped in, which appears to have paid strong early dividends. Partridge clearly had an incentive to deliver to begin with, and he can't be blamed for wanting to show off Flood out of spite. In terms of unforced errors though, Partridge may have made one of his own in kicking Rutgers when it was down last year (especially in light of his earlier comments), a bizarre act of hubris with no conceivable upside.
The jury is still out on Chris Ash and his staff, but a new broom sweeps clean. It would be hard to be worse than Flood, and new staffs typically see an early honeymoon period when it comes to recruiting. That process is more unstable than ever, and February is a long time away, but the early results look promising. This has led to a lot of excitement with the Rutgers fanbase, and a lot of snide comments coming from Michigan fans. The start was with Micah Clark's commitment. It's a soft commitment, as he plans to take his other visits, but his half brother (a solid prospect unlikely to gather attention from top programs) is on board, and odds are in our favor. I get seeing the four years of abject failure under Flood and being skeptical, but it wasn't long ago that Greg Schiano was recruiting very well at Rutgers, so dismissiveness comes off to Rutgers fans like nails on a chalkboard.
Recruiting is a free market (or, in the case of Hugh Freeze, a really free market.) Let the best program win, and it's not like Michigan is going to return to the Brady Hoke era if Rutgers suddenly gets its act together again. Oh no, they'll have to somehow get by with their endless pile of national four and five star recruits. They'll be really good until Jim Harbaugh inevitably burns out again (I had to take that cheap shot given all of the others tossed in this direction.) In this spirit, I welcomed Brian Cook's crusading against the NCAA's pathetic ban on satellite camps - which have many have pointed out, was based on their similarly disgusting ban on directly running camps out of state that was specifically created to check Greg Schiano.
Michigan is running two camps in New Jersey this year, which is their right. Chris Ash's attitude upon hearing that Harbaugh was giving the commencement address at Paramus Catholic this year was to bemoan that he wasn't doing it. No sense whining about it, try to beat the crazy coach having sleepovers with recruits at his own game. Every Rutgers fan should be wildly offended if the staff is not carpet bombing the Northeast, Midwest, and Florida with camps, considering the legion of doom of regional irritants piggybacking off of Michigan's camp at Paramus. Ash didn't throw a fit, he upped the ante by giving Harbaugh a taste of his own medicine and hosting his own camp at the same day, along with his coaching buddies from Ohio State and Temple. mgoblog's reaction to this is bizarre, to the say the least.
Anyway, by flipping the bird to Michigan, Rutgers and OSU have annoyed a bunch of local recruits who now have to choose which set of coaches to get exposure with.
Preceding to then cherry pick a quote from a random assistant coach who was largely supportive of the move. Rutgers is somehow bad for giving high school kids more potential choice. That's like arguing that Jolt is annoying consumers because now they somehow have to make a choice beyond instinctively grabbing for a Pepsi. Missing, of course, is actual evidence that any players are actually annoyed by this. What's actually happening is that due to Toal, Hansen, and others hating Partridge with the fire of a thousand suns, the potential attendance for the Michigan camp is reduced. Who knows what will happen, but one assumes that the anti-Partridge coaches will push their players elsewhere, for what that's worth. It's not like Michigan had any trouble recruiting without the benefit of satellite camps. If the Rutgers/OSU/Temple camp is doomed to be such a failure, why are you even bothering to fret about it?
This ongoing bizarre fixation was downright weird, with another subsequent post/verbal fit being downright odd on a number of points. Calling NJ.com "Jersey Pravda" might be the worst sports blog comment ever written that doesn't involve apologizing for Joe Paterno systematically covering up and enabling pedophilia for decades. NJ.com/The Star Ledger have been wildly critical of Rutgers, both rightly going after recently deposed athletic director Julie Hermann over the past few years, and publishing vicious slander about former athletic director Bob Mulcahy that was proved to be categorically untrue. What is true is that it's a news organization chasing subscriptions and clicks, and that inherently is going to introduce an air of sensationalism to any story, but the idea that they are some kind of house organ for Rutgers athletics is disproved in less than two minutes of research.
What is true is that in there is good reason to believe that a lot of the supposed pro-Rutgers sentiment from NJ coaches is really anti-PC and Partridge sentiment. Those relationships have varied over time. St. Joe's was very pro-Rutgers under their previous coach. Schiano finally broke through with Bosco and St. Peter's near the end. Anecdotally, playing at a North Jersey parochial seems to tilt the deck a bit against Rutgers, with a good plurality of Rutgers fans essentially seeing the parochials as a fifth column openly supporting Boston College, and tripping over themselves to send players there. BC is in the tank, with zero fan support or media interest. That didn't stop a marginal Bergen Catholic prospect who obtained a late offer from publicly spurning Ash at the last minute, which may have had something to do with the Bergen coach's brother leaving Rutgers for a promotion at BC.
That was a horrible decision for Nunzio Campanile and Korab Idrizi, who dropped a nuclear bomb on the credibility of Crusader football, and likely their fringe prospects' ability to obtain offers in the future, even if Ash and Campanile continue to publicly make nice. Still, the fact that Nunzio would spurn his brother out of anti-PC hate speaks to the business-like, transnational nature of college sports recruiting, and the utter lunacy of seeing it in any other lens. Toal and Hansen can cry crocodile tears all they want with their false claims of in state pride, but Rutgers fans know the truth, and the new Rutgers staff would do well to study how they (deservedly, in this case) stabbed Flood in the back at the first opportunity. For now, North Jersey parochial programs remain a necessary evil, and this specific situation requires Ash to keep his enemies close, without letting them drag him into a proxy war that cannot be won.