If anyone thought - or hoped - that there was going to be a blood-letting and bashing of all things Harbaugh, you were at the wrong event. The Tri-State Showcase was practically a love fest, as no coaches said much of anything except that this was a great opportunity for some 800 student-athletes.
The camp, sponsored by Rutgers and featuring the staffs of Ohio State and Temple, drew a crowd that was enthusiastic and probably a little curious to see how it would all play out.
The weather had turned ugly around mid-day, but it followed the script that the weatherman had laid out: by 3:00 the rain ended and at 4:30, when I arrived at FDU-Florham Park, the sun was out. And it was a bit cool, something I'm sure the athletes appreciated.
RB Coach Zak Kuhr introduced both Ash and Meyer. He noted that every coach at Rutgers "has coached at the highest level", in Power 5 conferences. Ash spoke first, telling the athletes that, "We're gonna grind ya. But make sure you have fun." Meyer spoke to the massed group, telling them if they don't want to look someone in the eye when they're talking with them, if they aren't willing to be team players, if they aren't going to be good people, they should cross off being a college football player. He also noted, "Our conference is stronger because of Coach Ash being at Rutgers."
Ash also took time with the athletes to recognize Greg Schiano and welcome him back to New Jersey. More on that later.
The return of the prodigal coach
The word was put out on Tuesday that Urban Meyer would not be available to the press. But Greg Schiano was. As the camp was ready to get under way, the co-defensive coordinator of the Buckeyes was the first to meet with the media. And the only non-head coach.
He was cordial and low key. He knew a number of the press corps from his eleven years in the Hale Center. To me, he seemed calm and subdued, almost humble. I will admit that he had worn out his welcome with me, but I saw the same coach, just a bit less cocky.
The Ash Presser
Once the athletes moved off to their position sessions, Ash met with the media and took questions for about six minutes. We'll go with a pretty straight Q & A format to share his thoughts.
"I'm really excited about the turnout....got beautiful weather. I look at the State of New Jersey, you've got two outstanding events going on tonight. You've got a college coaches convention between this event and the other event. You've got 1400, 1500 players the opportunity to be coached by outstanding coaches. We're here in the middle of June, everybody is talking about college football. Football here in New Jersey, couldn't be more excited about this event.
A question was posed about Harbaugh and his camp at Paramus Catholic: "It's a great event for everybody. Who wins in this whole thing? The student athletes.....I doubt there's been an event like this in New Jersey before, so it's really exciting for everybody."
Did this camp happen in order to make a "Rutgers statement", in competition with Harbaugh? "I commend Coach Harbaugh for doing what he's doing. He's done a great job getting his brand, Michigan's brand out there around the nation, promoting the game of football. What he's done is force a lot of coaches to think outside the box and go out and do the same thing. I'm just excited to come out and coach some football. People can say what they want, I'm just excited about our event and about the coaches who came to work with these guys. Thrilled about the interest in our program and the turnout tonight. I'm really thrilled for the state of New Jersey to host an event like this."
How does this camp help in building Rutgers? "There's a couple of things. One, it helps us evaluate some talent out here. But what are a lot of people talking about? They're talking about Rutgers football, and anytime, especially when you're a new coach, a new program, it is a lot about marketing your school."
With all that has gone on with Chris Partridge trying to "break into the garden", where did Fence the Garden come from and is it an issue with kids leaving New Jersey? "It was kind of a funny slogan when we first got here. You know, somebody threw it out there. We're going to get a lot of recruits. We're not going to get every one of them. We're going to swing for every one of them that we think fit our program and makes us better. The more we keep at home the better."
As time went on, did getting better, high profile coaches at the camp have an impact? "Oh, I think it helps a lot. One, kids want to go and get coached by great coaches, evaluated by great coaches. If we can promote the game here in the state of New Jersey, we're all for it. The fact that Temple and Coach Rhule came, Coach Meyer and Ohio State came, and all the other coaches, it says a lot about the product here in New Jersey and two, just the excitement of this event."
A question was asked about the competition between Rutgers and Michigan and Paramus Catholic: "It's not about us and Paramus [Catholic], it's about trying to brand ourselves. Unfortunately, I think it's been portrayed that way. That's unfortunate. It's not what this is about. We're out here trying to have a good time and coach football."
On how Meyer and the OSU staff got here: "There's relationships that have been built because we spent a lot of time together. Anytime you go on a two year run like we had there, there's a lot of investment. The bonds just don't go away. Are we competitors on the field? Absolutely, but we're also friends. I don't want to ruin those relationships. We have a job to do, they have a job to do. It's about the love of the game of football."
Thoughts on Michigan honing in on New Jersey recruits? "Everybody has areas that they hone in on across the nation. A lot of people have honed in on New Jersey because there are a lot of very good high school football players here. Those are the rules, everyone gets a chance to recruit. We get a chance to go recruit, they get a chance to go recruit. It's no different in Florida, Texas, or other fertile areas. Everyone goes in to recruit those guys. We do a great job building relationships and creating an environment that everybody wants to be a part of."
About Schiano: "Well, he built Rutgers. I'm excited to be here. I think we have a chance to do some great things in the future. But honestly, Rutgers football wouldn't be where it's at today without the blood and sweat and investment that Coach Schiano put into it. It wouldn't be right to have him here without at least recognizing him because I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for all the work that he put in."