When Chris Ash was hired in December of 2015, Pat Hobbs said he found his guy.
And when On the Banks reported on it, readers also felt pretty positive about the first-time head coach, as seen in the reader poll at the time.
But there are those 34 who said we could have done better. Could we? Could Rutgers have gotten someone better, more experienced, more ready to win now?
So just how have all those other coaches done at their new locations? We took a look. For our purposes, we looked at P5 conferences plus The American and the MAC. That included 18 coaching spots in six conferences.
One of the things that the naysayers go to as a complaint is that Rutgers continually goes after assistants (coordinators) and should look to bring in a successful head coach. But how easy is that? What “successful” head coach leaves his already successful and established program to take over a rebuild? Or any program? Were we going to get Mark Richt or Justin Fuentes or even Matt Campbell? The same Matt Campbell who just yesterday agreed to a new six-year, $22.5 million contract extension. Think Rutgers could've gotten him?
In 2016, there were just six head coaches who left a head coaching gig to take over another. Three left G5 or FCS schools, one was fired from a P5 school, and the other left an independent BCS school for a P5. Nine were coordinators and/or associate head coaches and two had been in the NFL.
Of the 18 schools that were hiring for 2016, only six were coming off winning records in 2015. The others all had losing records - with one going winless.
And after two seasons, only seven have winning two-year records. Five of those programs were already winning in 2015. The one exception? Scott Frost at UCF took an 0-12 Knights squad from 2015 to 6-7 in 2016 to 11-0 and a spot in this year’s AAC Championship game on Saturday. There is little doubt that Frost has created the biggest turnaround, a reason he was in the conversation for the Florida job before the Gators decided on Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. And it would seem that Frost, who went cross country from being Oregon’s OC, will entertain other offers once the coaching carousel cranks up.
Eleven coaches increased their win totals from year one to year two, including Chris Ash. And four, including Maryland’s DJ Durkin, decreased their wins while Dino Babers of Syracuse and ECU’s Scottie Montgomery stayed even. And despite taking the Terps to a bowl in his first year, Durkin suffered his worst loss at Maryland to close 2017, losing to Penn State, 66-3.
Being a head coach previously doesn’t always guarantee quick success. Look at Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall spent 11 seasons with BYU where he compiled a very impressive 99-43 record. After a 6-6 first year in Provo, he never had a losing season and only had as few as seven wins once, winning 10+ five times. Yet in his first two years with the Cavaliers, he’s 8-16, reaching the .500 mark this season. Meaning he has two more wins than Chris Ash.
If there is a major criticism against Ash, it is that he hasn’t had a significant win in his two years. The three Big Ten wins during a four game stretch this season got a lot of people overly excited. And while the wins were important, they were against teams that Rutgers needs to beat in order to climb up the Big Ten ladder. In comparison, Dino Babers, with his 8-16 record with the Orange, beat Clemson this year. Though they did lose to Middle Tennessee State (6-6)...at home.
And after two years, do you give a coach with a losing record an extension as Rutgers did with Chris Ash? You do if you’re Missouri with Barry Odom.
So could Rutgers have done “better” than Chris Ash? And considering the state of Rutgers football when he was hired, could Ash have done better than he already has? Looking at the numbers, the fact is that previously successful coaches moving to successful programs did well right out of the box. And Rutgers is not Miami, Virginia Tech, or Georgia, programs able to attract successful head coaches. Most of the 2016 hires were coordinators and most of them are not winning, at least not at a high level.
Rutgers is not at a level where it can pick and choose it’s head coach. No amount of money is going to draw a successful P5 head coach - or maybe even a G5 or FCS coach - to Piscataway. At least not yet. But getting the best person - whether a coordinator or head coach - is most important in my book. The jury may still be out on Chris Ash, but it’s also out on most of his peers, as well.