As you know, head coach Chris Ash has dealt with a lot of turnover with his coaching staff this offseason. Three of his younger assistants departed, starting with offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer, leaving to work for his mentor Tom Herman at Texas. Then running backs coach Zak Kuhr did the same, leaving for Texas State to work for mentor Everett Withers. That was followed by assistant defensive backs coach Aaron Henry leaving for N.C. State, reportedly due to family reasons.
Ash took advantage of these openings and undoubtedly upgraded all three positions with more experienced coaches. Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill was hired as the offensive coordinator, former Iowa assistant Lester Erb took over the running backs post, and Henry Baker, the Maryland alum and New Jersey native, became the defensive backs coach.
As it turns out, a fourth Rutgers assistant was pursued by their alma mater for a offensive line coaching position recently, which also happens to be a Big Ten foe.
Iowa tried to bring back Hawkeye alum & Rutgers OL coach AJ Blazek but was unsuccessful here https://t.co/7pzZrURJRS— Shawn Brown (@ShawnBRivals) February 14, 2017
NJ Advance Media’s Ryan Dunleavy covered Blazek turning down the offer in more detail here. This is big news for Ash and the program. Blazek came to Rutgers light on FBS coaching experience, but was an All-Big Ten center at Iowa during the 2000 season. He also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors and was a co-captain for the Hawkeyes as well. Although he was a student & graduate assistant there for four years, the bulk of his coaching experience was with Division II Winona State and FCS Western Illinois. Despite not having FBS or Big Ten coaching experience, Blazek has proven already to be a smart hire by Ash.
From a recruiting perspective, Blazek has been excellent. Our own Bob Cancro wrote on how Big Ten assistants were ranked based on their performance with the 2017 recruiting cycle. Blazek rated the best of any Rutgers assistant, as he was 13th overall in the Big Ten and the only one from the staff to make the Top 100 list for FBS assistants. He is credited with bringing in 4-star lineman Micah Clark, who is easily one of the most important recruits to join the program in some time. Clark was ranked the #2 recruit in New Jersey by 247 Sports, making him the highest rated in-state player to join Rutgers since Darius Hamilton in 2012. Blazek is also credited with bringing 3-star recruits Sam Vretman, Mike Tverdov, Owen Bowles, and Jaamal Beatty, as well as JUCO player Cole Murphy.
Blazek is one of the younger assistants on the Rutgers staff and has had a big presence on social media since he joined the program. He seems to relate well with his players and several have stated their appreciation for him in the past. You can watch him in action at practice here. His enthusiasm and positive energy are evident and if you follow him on twitter, he is the same. Here are a few recent examples:
The fact that Blazek reportedly turned down Iowa, his alma mater, is a major development. It’s not just that his departure would have left another hole for Ash to fill in what has been a busy offseason, but it would have furthered the perception that Rutgers can’t compete staffing wise with the rest of the Big Ten. As the offensive staff stands now, Rutgers has Kill as offensive coordinator, Erb as running backs coach, Jafar Williams as wide receivers coach, and Blazek with the offensive line. All of them have coached at other Big Ten schools, adding credibility and valuable experience. If there is one reason to be optimistic the offense as a whole will be improved next season, this is why.
Aside from Erb’s impressive background at Iowa, which we covered here, his addition the staff likely helped keep Blazek as well.
Rather than focus on Ash making some questionable early hires last winter, mostly due to the youth and inexperience of certain assistants, I find it much more important in crediting his growth as a head coach this offseason. Hiring three credible, veteran assistants look to be great additions to the program.
At the same time, it now appears he also retained his top rising assistant in Blazek, despite his alma mater and former head coach attempting to take him away. He has quickly proven to be a great recruiter and him staying should help lead to improved continuity among the offensive staff, which is a key development. While the offensive line of Rutgers struggled mightily at times last season, Blazek appears to be the right coach for this unit for multiple reasons. Keeping him in place to develop the solid group of young talent he helped add to the roster was a huge win for the program and Ash.