With the recent news that athletic director Pat Hobbs received a contract extension, there are plenty of positives that have been accomplished since his arrival. A major increase in fundraising, facility improvements, the partnership with RWJBarnabas, the partnership with Adidas, and the attention to the non-revenue sports have all been important developments in Hobbs' tenure so far. However, AD's are ultimately judged in large part by how successful their coaching hires are for football and men's basketball. Hobbs had the rare task of having to start over with both programs within six months of his arrival at Rutgers. How Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell perform with their respective programs will go a long way in determining the legacy of Hobbs as well.
The good news is that both coaches share a bond leading the athletic departments two flagship sports and support each other. At Big Ten Media Day last Thursday, Steve Pikiell was asked about his relationship with Chris Ash and whether they communicate at all. Here is what Pikiell had to say.
“We really do and I have tremendous respect for him. When I talk about our league in basketball, you have to look at that league in football too. Wow. The bracket (divisions) that we seem to be on is the tougher side of the bracket. I’ll tell you this too, he does an unbelievable job. He has a great staff, his energy is ridiculous.”
Pikiell went on to share how happy he was for Ash after getting his first Big Ten victory over Illinois.
“We talk very frequently. I admire him and was so happy for him the other day after that game (win over Illinois). To go on the road to win a game coming off of some tough losses, to get your team back up off the mat, what he’s done has been unbelievable.”
The Rutgers men's basketball coach didn't stop there. Both coaches and programs have major challenges in recruiting, but Pikiell talked about the challenges he sees in college football.
“I will tell you about football, talking about the patience you need, whenever he got the job that December, there is not a lot of time in the recruiting cycle. You do what you can for that year, then you spend the whole next year recruiting a class that you are going to redshirt for the most part. Football really, that process is a little bit longer anyways and then you play Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State (laugh).”
Pikiell was adamant that he thinks Ash is the right guy turn around Rutgers football.
“He doing an unbelievable job. They will be very good coming up here in the best league in the country in the college football world.”
Note that Pikiell said all of this before Rutgers beat Purdue this past weekend, which began the first Big Ten winning streak in program history. Both coaches are undergoing massive rebuilds. Pikiell has done it before at Stony Brook and knows the traits a coach needs in being successful in the process. He sees those traits in Ash. While they each have a long way to go in turning their programs around, both have shown signs of progress. Hearing that they support each other and have bonded through a common goal of winning at Rutgers is an encouraging sign.
This is what it should be like at a power five athletic department and is common at schools that are successful in both sports like Michigan State, where Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio have a strong relationship with each other. Both of those coaches grew on the job and built their programs into highly successful ones. It certainly helps to be able to trade or bounce ideas off of each other, as no one else on campus can relate to their positions in leading high profile programs like the coaches of those two sports can.
How successful Ash and Pikiell ultimately are at Rutgers is a long way off from being determined. The better each program becomes and the more their profiles grow, the more they can help each other with recruiting. It's a positive sign that both are aligned under Hobbs, something that bodes well for all three key people at the forefront of Rutgers athletics.