Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill announced that he was retiring on Tuesday due to health reasons. While it’s certainly not an ideal situation that head coach Chris Ash is looking for his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, which will also be the ninth in nine seasons for the football program overall, this wasn’t a surprise. Ash has proven in his career, including his time at Rutgers, that he is detail oriented and prides himself with preparation, so the positive of this situation is he has already been working on a replacement for some time.
The public speculation that Kill might step down started in earnest over a week ago after this tweet by a Minnesota reporter:
And then when Football Scoop, a site dedicated to coaching searches, reported that head coach Chris Ash was interviewing candidates to replace Kill, it seemed inevitable that it was only a matter of time for a change to be made.
We can confirm Ash has been speaking with other candidates…. https://t.co/8XTGFN420S— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) December 12, 2017
While Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advance Media reported that a Rutgers official denied the report, which is not surprising, it seems Ash has been working on finding a replacement for Kill for awhile now. Dunleavy reported today that Kill announced to the team of his departure last week. Dunleavy and Keith Sargeant have a pretty extensive list of potential candidates here. They reported that Ole Miss OC Phil Longo, former Arkansas OC Dan Enid, and likely outgoing Texas A&M OC Noel Mazzone as candidates Ash has contacted. There are a lot of ways Ash could go, but the point is, whichever candidate he does choose, he needs to get the hire right.
While his first hire in Drew Mehringer turned out to be a disaster, Kill’s one season on the banks came with mixed reviews. While Rutgers did win three Big Ten games last season after not winning any the year before, statistically the offense didn't improve much after being the worst in college football in 2016. Out of 129 FBS teams, the Rutgers offense ranked 117th in third down conversion rate, 120th in points, 124th in passing yards, and 128th in total yards. However, Rutgers did establish a decent running game under Kill, averaging 147 yards per game, which ranked 86th in FBS play. His conservative play calling was consistent with his history as a coach and was done in part due to what he and Ash felt gave the team the best chance to win in conference play. However, for Rutgers to make a sustainable climb up the Big Ten ladder, the offense must become more dynamic and balanced. The lack of a passing attack has been the program's Achilles heel during Ash's tenure.
There is certainly a lot of pressure on Ash to find the best fit possible for the program, both in the short term and long term. Kill was on a three year contract starting at $600,000, so Rutgers should be expected to at least be within that range in hiring a replacement. That should give them the opportunity to hire a coordinator with power five experience and I wouldn't be surprised if they went higher salary wise this time around, due to how critical this decision is. While Ash could go with an out of the box hire, something his first two coordinators would qualify as, I think it would be a big mistake to not hire an established, proven offensive coach.
The bottom line is Ash needs to nail this hire and cannot afford to be looking for a fourth offensive coordinator in year four. While having Kill not work out due to health reasons is understandable, but failing with three coordinators in a row would be devastating perception wise for Ash so early in his head coaching career.
There are two major reasons this job is attractive for a potential coordinator, aside from it being a Big Ten job and having a chance to be a part of a successful rebuild. First, the talent of the quarterbacks on the spring roster will be an intriguing group for any offensive coordinator. The competition is truly wide open now, with Gio Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis returning, while 4-star commit Artur Sitkowksi and 3-star commit Jalen Chatman are expected to officially sign with Rutgers during the early signing period tomorrow. Both are expected to enroll early and there should be no doubt that Ash has made them aware of the possibility of Kill leaving for some time. You could argue the talent and potential between Lewis, Chatman, and Sitkowski is as good as Rutgers has had together at the quarterback position in many years. How they develop and who emerges is a major key to Ash's success at Rutgers. The selling point is the new OC will not be inheriting an empty cupboard talent wise.
The other intriguing aspect is that when the 10th assistant coaching rule goes into effect on January 9th, the likelihood of an offensive assistant being added is even more probable now. Rutgers desperately needs a clear vision and stability on the offensive side of the ball, so these will be two critical hires for Ash during his tenure with the program. This makes Mazzone even more intriguing, as his son Taylor, who was the QB coach at UCLA under his father, before becoming a quality control coach under him at Texas A&M. Even if Ash goes in another direction, it's likely the 10th spot will fall under the newly hired offensive coordinator. This gives the new OC even more ability to shape the offense by hiring one his own guys almost immediately.
The streak continues for Rutgers football, as the program will soon have its ninth offensive coordinator in nine years. However, the past really doesn't matter right now. The most important thing is that Ash finds the right coordinator to give the Rutgers offense a clear indentity and direction, both for now and the future. The instability at this position has been a major issue for the program and if Ash can't solve this puzzle, it will be a difficult obstacle to overcome in order for him to fulfill his goal of making Rutgers a consistent winner in the Big Ten. One quality Ash has shown during his two years on the job is his ability to learn from mistakes. Hopefully, he can continue that trend and hire an impact offensive coordinator that will elevate the trajectory of this program.