Saturday’s contest between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Rutgers Scarlet Knights features a homecoming for the second year in a row. A season ago, Chris Ash returned to Columbus where he served as defensive coordinator for the National Champion Buckeyes just two seasons earlier. This weekend, Greg Schiano makes his much more anticipated return to Piscataway as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, having replaced Chris Ash in the role when Ash left to take the head job at RU.
It’s uncertain how Rutgers will choose to honor Schiano, but common sense would indicate they will in some way. Perhaps a video tribute or a simple “thank you” announcement before kickoff detailing the bowl championships, number of players he sent to the NFL, or other accomplishments will prove to be the simple answer. Regardless of the method used to convey thanks for his contributions from 2001-2011, it will be emotional per this week’s earlier press conferences of both Ash and Schiano himself.
Ash was asked in Monday’s game week press conference the following: “You talked about how Greg was helpful for you in that transitional period when you took the job, Greg Schiano of course. This will be his first trip back here. Have you maintained that relationship with him over the years? Do you still rely on him for advice and do you have a deeper appreciation after a second year of just when he was able to accomplish?”
I would still consider Greg and I to be friends and have a relationship. Obviously the beginning of the season, you don't get a chance to talk to people. Honestly, other than the people this building and my wife, I don't talk to many people during the season. That's by design a lot of times. But I do have -- before I ever came to Rutgers and even since I've been here, I've always had a great appreciation for what Greg did here at Rutgers and what he accomplished and the way that he built the program up. And having been here and listening to all the stories and really getting a good feel for this place, you know, I do have a greater appreciation, but I've always had a pretty high appreciation of what he and his staff and players accomplished during his time here. It's remarkable what they were able to do, and you know, that's -- honestly that's one of the reasons that I made the decision to come here is because it's been done before. It takes a lot of time, effort and a lot of people to get it done but hoping to be able to rebuild it and get it back to where it was during his time here.
During Schiano’s game week interview on Tuesday, he was asked how strange it would be, to be in the visiting locker room. Greg said it would be “weird, but life is weird.” Then he was asked by a reporter to reflect on his time at Rutgers taking it to a top-10 program at one point and how “surreal it would be.”
Here’s what Schiano had to say, the full video courtesy of eleven warriors, here.
"I'm not a big sentimentalist, but being from New Jersey, it was really neat to be able to go there and do what we did. My four kids spent the majority of their childhood there. We were there 11 years.
"It'll always have a special place in my heart, but it's all eyes forward. We have ... eight straight league games now, starting with Rutgers. You've got to win."
People said I was crazy to go there when I did. Of course, Miami was incredible — program was humming, but I'm born and raised there. At the time, it was a dream of mine - which is a weird dream -- to make college football in New Jersey like it is in so many other great states.”
"Because my whole family still lives there and because I have a personal relationship with the head coach there, I certainly want them to succeed. And the guy who followed me at Rutgers is one of my assistants. I certainly wanted him to do well. But more importantly, it's where I'm from. I think Chris is going to get it where it needs to be, and I want that to happen, just not this weekend."
That dream was shared by many around the state, even though many doubted if it could ever become a reality. The stubbornness, unwavering confidence, and steady approach of Schiano were exactly what was required to get the program in a state of continuous improvement. He was not a perfect coach as the aforementioned traits that helped grow the program off the field and in its preparation, were not always as effective on game day against big time programs. He is though the person most responsible for returning Rutgers from it’s status as a national patsy in the late 1990s to an annual Big East contender. That success parlayed into a Big Ten membership.
Chris Ash has many of these same traits that also include accountability, composure, and pure desire. The parallels between the two coaches are lengthy, though Ash admitted that one of the reasons he took the job was being able to see tangible results from the Schiano era. A first time head coach who works back end of defense to the front, and then offense second is not expected to turn miracles right away. What’s great about the Big Ten is that you can’t fool yourself into thinking you are better than you are because each week brings a reality check in the form of another historically successful program. These weekly tests need to show signs of progress.
This weekend, I am looking forward to Schiano sharing a moment with Eric LeGrand. We will all reminisce for a few moments on Greg’s accomplishments for his home state school. After that, eyes will be back on the present game and a future Scarlet Knights fans hope turns out to be at a previously unimaginable level. For many New Jersey sports fans, Greg Schiano represents hope, something that little by little is returning to the banks.