Hey, football fans.
So, Chris Ash is off to a rousing start, right? I completely agree. But I had a thought this morning and I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
You see, for the past 15 years, you’ve been under the Schiano regime—whether it was Greg Schiano or Kyle Flood trying to keep up the same tone. It’s been very clear, though, that Chris Ash is doing things his way, and this might be different to you.
As a basketball fan who’s been through four coaching changes since Schiano was hired, I figured I’d sit with you and talk about what you have to look forward to. Because while the first year of a new coach isn’t always great from a record stand point—seeing a new regime in action is can be fun and rewarding in its own way.
So, here are some of the things I look forward to under a new coach.
The New Style
Okay, this one goes without saying. That’s what we’re all looking forward to, right? So, I’m going to tell you about it anyway.
I like to call this one the eye test. When Mike Rice was hired, you knew pretty quickly that his teams were going to grind and play defensive opportunistic basketball. When Mike Coburn and company beat Miami handily at the RAC early in the season—in a game they were expected to lose—you knew that maybe they were on to something. It was a lot of fun to watch that team share the ball, switch on D and find a way to stay close.
That said, when Eddie Jordan came on board—even though I tried to be hopeful—it was pretty evident the team was not going to be strong defensively. They gave up easy baskets in a pre-season game!
Therefore, when Chris Ash takes the field, I’m going to be looking for strong schemes and players who hustle. I’m not sure the talent is where Ash wants it to be yet, so I don’t think I can expect a good record, but that doesn’t mean the games can’t be fun. There can still be a hint toward the future.
My dad and I rush to the car when the games are over. I love hearing the postgame interviews with the coaches.
Every time a new coach comes in, the format changes just a little bit. When Waters and Fred Hill were coaching, the postgame press conference was handled by an assistant. That assistant was usually pretty outspoken in how they analyzed what had just happened on the court, but something was missing. When Rice took over the program, he also took over the post game press conference.
Rice was a revelation. He was brutally honest, and complimentary depending on the game. He also started to bring in players for interviews as well. This continued under Jordan, after the infrequent wins. Jordan, however, was never good with the media and the postgame lost something again.
When Waters was coach, we also (like Kyle Flood and Schiano) had a coach’s radio show. That went by the wayside when Fred Hill took over and never came back. I really hope Steve Pikiell brings it back. If he does, it will do a lot for fan outreach that the previous regimes didn’t do.
I’m also interested to see if Ash keeps up a radio show as well. It hasn’t been promoted yet, if he does. That said, Ash has already done a lot of fan outreach with student meetings, open practice and fan appreciate day.
But it’s the little things, the differences in how coaches reach out to fans is key to the new regime and tolerating a transition year.
A Sense of Fun
This is the toughest one for me—and it ties into fan outreach.
As seriously as some of us take our sports, it’s still supposed to be fun. Some coaches understand that and use it to bring goodwill toward the program. Some miss the point.
Again, I look to Mike Rice. As rough and embarrassing as the end of his tenure was, he understood some of the details of building a program that didn’t tie into recruiting and winning. He brought back MidKnight Madness (and danced to Ice, Ice Baby with the cheerleaders). Steve Pikiell and his promotional crew understand this as well. Just look at the new “This is Rutgers” commercials, a lot of which focus on Pikiell and his players.
Ash seems to do his outreach in terms of how the players are getting better and how hard they’re working. This is effective as well.
To me, Flood and Jordan never understood this. The closest Jordan got was being videotaped doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Flood like.. well, he liked ice as well with Club Ice. But neither were consistently full of laughs or fun videos to keep the fans connected.
It’s the Little Things
I’ve been wrong before (often), but I don’t know that either Ash or Pikiell will have miracle seasons. It takes time to turn around college programs and this is just year one.
Fans of both programs will have to look toward the details. What will the coaches tweak that will keep the fans on their toes? What will show them it’s a truly new era with optimism at the end?
A lot of those details have already started. A summer of outreach and social media extravaganzas have kept the fans engaged with the programs. But as the seasons begin, there will be more changes. Will they be good ones?
It appears the track record for the changes are there. So strap in and look toward the eye test. Make sure your team is running good stuff, players are improving and the coaches are keeping things in perspective.
Sometimes, the changes and the build can be just as fun as the success. (And if you notice, this isn’t just toward the football fan—despite my cute lede. I’m talking to us hoops fans too.)
It’s all part of the ride.