In a somewhat unexpected move, Rutgers’ rowing coach Max Borghard “stepped down” in May, just before Memorial Day. Athletic Director Pat Hobbs announced that a national search would be made to find a replacement.
In early July, he announced the hiring of Justin Price as the new head coach. With a West Coast pedigree, along with a stop at Notre Dame, it would be justified to say that Price had a “national” outlook. More significantly, bringing in a coach who would have to move cross country indicates a very important point: no coach would make that move to Rutgers, a program that has performed poorly in the Big Ten, unless he knew there was a strong commitment to the sport by the school. Did that mean that Rutgers was committing itself to rowing?
With Price’s hiring, Pat Hobbs has now hired four head coaches since he was hired in November of 2015. Of course, most people will only look at the major hires, Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell, for the two biggest revenue sports at RU. But Price’s hiring, along with the 2016 hiring/promotion of Hilary Ritchie to lead women’s tennis, means that Hobbs has now hired a fifth of the head coaches at Rutgers.
And while Hobbs did not hire Joe Litterio for baseball, he has recently okayed the hiring of two significant assistants for the program. Phil Cundari (pitching coach - Seton Hall) and Jim Duffy (head coach - Manhattan) join Litterio’s staff in what is seen as a major upgrade of coaching on the diamond.
And so, again, you have to ask: is this a targeted move to upgrade another Olympic sport (anything not called football or basketball)?
In an interview with nj.com’s Keith Sargeant, Hobbs indicated that Athletics’ strategic plan - which would lay out the department’s vision and focus going forward - would be out soon, saying they would be “...bringing our strategic plan to a final document sometime in the upcoming academic year.’’ It would seem that a document such as that would detail the plan, the road map if you will, of how Athletics will proceed, including when things get built and where. And to many, that would seem to indicate which sports would get what upgrades and in what order.
Baseball (and softball) have the new Fred Hill Training Center. That is a big upgrade and, in turn, opens space in the RAC for other things. With the hiring of an improved baseball staff, the thinking would be that baseball might be on the horizon for more. But not before soccer and lacrosse get their new facility. That could be soon; again from Sargent’s story: “I am certainly hopeful of that so stay tuned. My hope is we’ll be able to have a very positive announcement with soccer and lacrosse sometime in the fall.’’ And if that falls in place, then Hobbs and his staff - following the new strategic plan - can move on to other things. Like maybe a baseball/softball complex.
It has been documented ad nauseum, both here and in other places, that Rutgers’ overall athletic program is, at best, lacking. Among the Olympic sports, if you pull out women’s soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, and men’s lacrosse, the remaining sports have been far from successful. In some cases they have been dreadful. Is Justin Price’s hiring a sign of a new direction? Is the hiring of two well-respected baseball assistants another? Should there be positive news this fall on the soccer-lacrosse training facility, will there then be renewed interest and focus in those areas?
Pat Hobbs is a smart guy. He knows that he can’t accept mediocre (bad) results from teams and expect fans, donors, and the rest of the Big Ten to be accepting. But he knows - and we, as fans, need to understand - that it will take time and money. Things need to be prioritized (see “Strategic Plan”) and money needs to be raised, and that would be for salaries, budgets, and facilities. It won’t come easily or quickly. But there might just be signs that things are now changing for the better.