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The Beginning of the Chris Ash Era of Rutgers Football Strikes Some As Very Familiar

Ash needs a bit of a longer leash here.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Twitter, predictably, blew up after the very bad loss Rutgers suffered to Eastern Michigan yesterday.

A lot of it was emotional frustration blowing through after a soul crushing defeat that a lot of fans thought would be a game that was in the bag before it even started. Hopefully, now that the loss is almost 24 hours ago, some of that emotion had faded and some logic has returned. But the rage that flew from fans fingers got so far as to call for Chris Ash’s head in only game 14 of his tenure.

That, quite frankly, is ridiculous.

Many fans have brought up the name of a certain former Rutgers coach, the one who broke through—Greg Schiano—pining for him to come back. Everyone remembers the Schiano era, post 2005, fondly.

But, it seems, they forget what it was like before that.

In the first two years of the Greg Schiano era, in a conference that wasn’t as prestigious as the Big Ten (though Virginia Tech and Miami were beasts), the team went 2-9 and then 1-11. There was the infamous 80-7 blowout in year 1 against West Virginia. And in year 2, Schiano lost back-to-back games against Buffalo and Villanova.

I don’t say this to tarnish the possibility of Greg Schiano as a coach. I say this to compare Schiano to Chris Ash, because there are clear parallels here.

Schiano came from a top, top program in Miami— with bluster of National Championships glittering in his eyes and an borderline overconfident belief that he was the only one who could turn the ship around. But it didn’t come easily. Schiano had some early era recruiting successes, but they didn’t show on the field and often the squad looked overmatched. There were people calling for Schiano’s head then, much like the murmur for Ash has come.

Schiano started with a bare cupboard and built it into a very good team over the course of five years. Chris Ash walked into a squad with some talent, yes, but almost one that was in disarray from scandal after scandal. There were distractions and the team needed to be broken down and built back up. It is a team propped up by some graduate transfers (a luxury that Schiano didn’t haveI grant) but is also very young. After taking a Washington team into the fourth quarter last week (much like Rutgers took Miami into the fourth quarter in Schiano year 2), you could sense a letdown was coming.

Does that absolve Ash of this loss?

No, of course not. I think Ash has made some key mistakes on the field, much like Schiano did early in his tenure. He’s too conservative at times and hasn’t always recognized the moment to try and go big and take a shot. He’s enamored with ball control in order to keep the score close. At the same time, that eliminates risks that often lead to upsets and wins.

But, honestly the same thing happened to Schiano early. He often made confusing on the field choices—lots of times to play it safe. Schiano even had an electric playmaker—a hold over from the Terry Shea era—named Nate Jones. Much like Ash has Janarion Grant.

Here’s the thing, both Ash and Schiano were and are first time head coaches that have to learn how to coach a football game on both sides of the ball. Yes, Jerry Kill should help, but he’s not the head coach. Kill needs to mentor Ash more.

A more experienced coach—like Al Golden—wouldn’t have lost yesterday. But, that said, what is the ceiling for the kind of experienced coach Rutgers could have landed? Al Golden would have Rutgers, in this conference, at 6-6 each year judging by his career resume. Ash has potential to do more.

There’s a lot of time left in this rebuild for Ash. Today was a setback, and one fans hoped they wouldn’t see again. Ash needs to keep practicing, keep developing talent and show improvement over the course of the season. He needs to keep recruiting. Things are rough right now, yes. But that doesn’t mean success will never happen for the coach.

It just takes time.