John McNulty spent a lot of time coaching in the National Football League — nine years, to be precise — after his first stint as Rutgers offensive coordinator came to an end.
Officially back to the college game for a second go-around in the same position, the Pennsylvania native brings with him a plethora of experience and a catalog of players he’s dealt with that allows him to name drop with the best of them.
He cited Philip Rivers, who he worked with in his most recent job with the Los Angeles Chargers, and Marcus Mariota, the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback coached in Tennessee, when asked about his offensive philosophy.
And while the responsibilities of an offensive coordinator in recruiting is often overstated, being able to say he helped develop guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Glennon when selling the dream of playing in the NFL certainly doesn’t hurt.
“I think (recruiting) appears to have changed in terms of the social media aspect,” McNulty said. “In the end, I think it will be like it was before. Like Tom Savage chose this place over Georgia, like DC Jefferson chose this place over LSU. I know he ended up being a tight end. This is a legitimate, pro offense. It will prepare you to play at the next level. There’s a lot of college elements that are built in, definitely … We can honestly look a kid in the eye — yeah we need to win, I got it — but we can prepare them at all of these positions to go and play at the next level.”
That development comes on the practice field, where McNulty looks to coach an offense which was described similarly to what Scarlet Knight supporters watched at High Point Solutions Stadium last season.
“The overall theme is protect the football, protect the quarterback, run the football. Whatever you get into scheme wise, those are the number one principles to live by,” McNulty said. “Can’t get the quarterback hit, sacked a whole lot. We didn’t get him hit a whole lot last year with the Chargers last year either. Turnovers are the number one thing that gets you beat. In the end, running the football is the only way to win in this conference. That also leads to great play-action shots down the field. Those are the underlying principles of all of it.”
For those worried of rust from McNulty as he makes the transition back to the college game and the offenses within it, he qualmed those concerns quickly.
“People kind of have a misconception that pro and college football are really that far off,” McNulty said. “Other than the quarterback running the ball however many times is best for your personnel and running the RPO rather than just call the play action, it’s really the same thing. People are spreading you out tip to tip, make you defend the whole field and trying to create matchup problems on the outside, try to create space to run the ball. Packing everybody in is not working anymore at any level. It will be a good mix of what we did at the Chargers, a version of that, some things that we did in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota as a rookie and I got to study that system extensively out in Oregon. It will also lead towards accentuating the positives of our personnel as well.”
Quarterback play has plagued Rutgers for much of the past decade and the eight offensive coordinators who have since occupied McNulty’s position. Aside from Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights haven’t found consistent success under center since McNulty coached Mike Teel for two seasons.
The position group has as much potential as it ever has entering this season, with true freshman early enrollee’s Artur Sitkowski and Jalen Chatman providing solid competition for rising sophomore quarterback Johnathan Lewis. With multiple young, talented quarterbacks on the Banks, it was crucial to find someone who could properly develop them.
For Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, it was priority number one when filling the offensive coordinator vacancy.
”I don’t know too many quarterback whisperers, (but) I do know some good quarterback coaches,” Ash said. “I think John falls in that category as a really good quarterbacks coach and developer of quarterbacks. That was first and foremost. We needed to make sure because the youth on our roster, the way the quarterback situation has been at Rutgers the last few years, we needed a guy that could develop those guys.”
McNulty now has a chance to end the vicious cycle he started. Since he moved onto the NFL after the 2008 season at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights offensive coordinator position has been a revolving door of eight coaches in as many years.
A big question surrounding every offensive coordinator hire in the process has been the same — will they stay for more than a year? For Kirk Ciarrocca, Frank Cignetti, Dave Brock, Ron Prince, Ralph Friedgan, Ben McDaniels, Drew Mehringer and Jerry Kill, the answer has been no.
Only time will tell for McNulty, but for now, the signs point in a positive direction.
“I left a good situation because this is a place that’s always been special for me,” McNulty said. “I relish the opportunity to come back here. I’ve got four kids. If you look at my resume, I could open a moving company by now. It’s just how the business goes. You get tired of doing it after a while. I’m certainly not looking to move any time soon. I’ll put it that way. This place is a place that’s special to me. I have a connection here. That’s not something that I’m even thinking about to be honest with you.”