Rutgers men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell hired an extremely talented and veteran staff back in April. The most junior assistant coach on the staff is 8 year veteran Brandin Knight, who learned under longtime Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. Jay Young was an assistant coach under Pikiell for 11 years at Stony Brook, but has also been a coach at various levels for almost 30 years. However, Karl Hobbs is the most seasoned assistant on the coaching staff and his hiring was a coup of sorts. He was the head coach at George Washington for 10 seasons, including three NCAA tournament appearances. Of course, that decade was sandwiched in between two successful stints as an assistant at UCONN. He won a national championship under his mentor and hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun. Hobbs then returned to UConn after the GW job and won another national championship under Kevin Ollie. Pikiell getting Hobbs to leave a cushy job for Rutgers was a major deal.
When was the last time Rutgers had an assistant coach with the pedigree and experience of Hobbs? Rutgers has actually had quite a few assistant coaches who have gone on to have very successful careers. Jeff Van Gundy coached on the 1988-1989 NCAA Tournament team before leaving for the Knicks as an assistant for several years, eventually becoming an NBA head coach for 11 seasons. Eddie Jordan was a graduate assistant on that same team, and went on to become a head coach in the NBA for 8 seasons. Of course, his three year tenure as head coach at Rutgers was an unmitigated disaster.
Moving on, Jim Valvano was an assistant after his playing days were finished on the banks, and he went on to win a national championship as head coach of N.C. State. Dick Vitale recruited some of the key players to the greatest Rutgers team ever, the 1976 Final four team, before becoming head coach at Detroit in both college and the NBA, ultimately becoming an ESPN legend as a broadcaster. Danny Hurley has become a successful college coach after starting as an assistant at Rutgers. Geoff Billet served as an assistant on the same bench as Hurley, and has been extremely successful as head coach at his high school alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy. Rob Lanier worked under Kevin Bannon at Rutgers and then was a head coach at Siena, while also working as a longtime assistant coach at Texas, Florida, Virginia, and currently at Tennessee.
However, who has ever come to Rutgers with the type of resume that Karl Hobbs brings with him? Only one coach comes close...Tom Abatamarco, who worked at Rutgers under Bob Wenzel from 1994-1997. He came to the banks with 20 years of coaching experience and had previous stops at St. John's, Maryland, Virginia Tech, and N.C. State. He, like Hobbs, won a national championship prior to his arrival, at N.C. State under loyal son Jim Valvano. However, I think Hobbs has the edge for becoming a successful head coach for a decade, finishing with a 166-129 record, three trips to the big dance, and winning Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year Honors in 2006. Karl Hobbs is the most accomplished assistant coach Rutgers has ever hired.
His experience on how to run a successful program and his game planning will be invaluable to head coach Steve Pikiell. In fact, Pikiell learned from Hobbs while serving as an assistant coach for him at George Washington. Their relationship is so strong that he was able to lure Hobbs away from UCONN, where both coaches played and where Hobbs was an assistant for almost two decades. Of all the moves Pikiell has made at Rutgers since his arrival, his ability to make Hobbs a believer in his vision has been most impressive in my opinion. He had little reason to leave a college basketball blue blood, and he did so for arguably the biggest rebuild job in the country. His arrival was Pikiell's biggest recruiting win to date.
Hobbs brings instant credibility to the Rutgers bench and a wealth of knowledge to impart on the players. He is the perfect right hand man for Pikiell, a trusted confidant who can give sage advice during the rebuild process. Hobbs played at UCONN in the mid-eighties before they were the powerhouse they have become, and had an integral part in helping the program reach the ultimate goal of winning a national championship. He mentored several future NBA stars while also helping Jim Calhoun win several Big East titles during the conference's heyday. Simply, he knows what it takes to build a winner.
RVision produced another great video during offseason workouts for the team, with this one featuring Hobbs working with the Rutgers backcourt. He has mentored players like Ray Allen, Khalid El-Amin, and Richard Hamilton in the past. Now he is hard at work with Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson, Mike Williams, and the rest of the backcourt. These quotes stuck out to me in the video:
"Working for coach Calhoun helped us (Hobbs & Pikiell) to really learn what it takes to succeed, and most importantly, that you can never, ever get outworked, and that's our philosophy that we'll bring here at Rutgers."
Hobbs also said he thinks of himself as a "teacher of the game" and as a basketball coach "everything is hands on." He will harp on fundamentals and the mental aspects of the game. For players to achieve their potential, they need coaches who are detail oriented, tireless workers, and well prepared. Rutgers not only got that with their head coach, but also with their associate head coach and top assistant, Karl Hobbs. We have no idea how successful Rutgers will be next season, but there is reason to be confident that they will be a hard working team that plays with a plan and purpose. Rutgers is fortunate to have Karl Hobbs.