With the 2016-2017 college sports season starting in just a few weeks, the world of Rutgers Athletics is on a legitimate upward trajectory. To say that the current state of the department is in better shape than it was a year ago would be major understatement. I don’t need to recall all of the gory details regarding the disaster that was the 2015 Rutgers football season, the much needed end of Julie Hermann’s tenure as athletic director, and the historic losing of the men’s basketball team. Not only is all of that now in the past, but the future is markedly brighter because of the changes that have been made. And not just because changes were made, but because the right ones were made.
It all started with President Robert Barchi hiring Pat Hobbs as Athletic Director. It was a moment that years from now could potentially be considered the single most important decision in the history of Rutgers athletics. That is the ceiling for the Hobbs era, a mere eight months after it began.
Hobbs has hired two coaches for football and men’s basketball that appear to be dogged in their planning and preparation, transparent in their communication and promotion of their programs, and determined to change the culture around their teams. Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell haven’t coached a game yet and have a lot to still prove, but they have done pretty much everything possible to start out of the gate the right way.
The R B1G Build is off to a tremendous start in their effort to raise $100 million for facility upgrades, something that had been long discussed, but was never close to being a reality at Rutgers before Hobbs arrival. There hasn’t ever been an organized fundraising effort of this magnitude executed on the banks before, and Hobbs got the plan off the ground just two months after his arrival on campus.
He has improved and aligned the strength and conditioning program for the entire athletic department in hiring of Kenny Parker for football and David Van Dyke for all other sports. Insufficient facilities has always been an obvious deficiency within the athletic department. However, greater emphasis on strength and conditioning for all Rutgers athletes was needed and should have a positive impact on the field.
Hobbs recently elevated Sarah Baumgartner to Senior Associate AD at Rutgers, the #2 spot within the athletic department. Soon after, she was named the NCAA Division I FBS Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Women Athletics Administrators. Promoting her and ensuring Sarah is in the plans long term was a no brainer, but also a move that Rutgers might have bungled in the past.
Even when there was a seldom moment of “same old Rutgers”, like the football ticket email blunder back in April, Hobbs responded immediately.
And now in the past week, there has been negative reports on two people that were connected to the previous coaching searches that Hobbs conducted for football and men’s basketball. It doesn’t matter what the true story is regarding the court testimony involving Greg Schiano at Penn State. It doesn’t matter if the allegations of verbal abuse by George Washington men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan are true. If you follow Rutgers sports, you know the reality is there is no benefit of the doubt given by the media and general public regarding our school. Rutgers and Hobbs would have been eviscerated if Schiano had been hired back as football coach or Lonergan was hired as men’s basketball coach, once these stories emerged.
Schiano was a sentimental choice to replace Kyle Flood, but never seemed like an option Hobbs seriously considered. Just days on the job, Hobbs stepped out of the box and went away from the perceived easy choice predicted by lazy national media types and some fans forever grateful for what Schiano did to build the football program. Hobbs proved immediately things would be different under his watch, and reshaped the future of the football program by choosing Chris Ash. It wasn’t a name pundits predicted, but someone Board of Governors Chairman Greg Brown had first discussed with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez before Hobbs came on board. The alignment of Brown, Hobbs, and Barchi in hiring Ash was another sign things were changing for the better. Convincing Ash to take the job was another.
Lonergan on the other hand was in the mix for the men’s basketball job. We don’t know whether he withdrew his name from consideration because he didn’t want to leave GW or because he was told he wasn’t getting the job. Hobbs could have targeted Lonergan as the frontrunner over Danny Hurley from the start, changing the dynamic in which he was pursued. Instead, after Hobbs was perceived to miss on his top two targets in Hurley and Lonergan, he went with a less flashy, more established program builder than either of them.
Steve Pikiell was not Hobbs first choice, but early signs indicate it was the right choice. Again, in the past Rutgers might have panicked and hired a bigger name candidate that wasn’t right for the job, just to save face publicly. Instead, Hobbs stayed the course and found his guy. The caliber of coaching staff that Pikiell brought on board is arguably the best in program history. His attitude and approach have been a breath of fresh air so far. It’s going to take time for him to turn the basketball program around, but Pikiell is off to a great start.
It all started with Hobbs, who since he stepped foot on campus, has positioned Rutgers towards long term success. The past couple of weeks proved that he can shine in moves not made as well. For a school that for many years could never get out of its own way and shot itself in the foot repeatedly, it is another example of major progress. There is no more one step forward, two steps back. There is only forward, and with Hobbs leading the way, the ceiling seems sky high. In Hobbs We Trust!