UPDATE 2.7.18: Nunzio Campanile has been officially hired, from the press release:
“I’d like to welcome Nunzio Campanile to our staff,” said Ash. “During our two years here I have watched him work and witnessed his passion for the game. He has great relationships with his players and great respect from people all across this state. I look forward to having him help us move our program forward.”
It was reported by multiple outlets on Monday that Rutgers football was set to hire Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile later this week as an assistant coach. NJ Advance Media’s Todderick Hunt reported Campanile will become the running backs coach for the Scarlet Knights.
With last week’s news that Rutgers wide receivers coach Jafar Williams was leaving to coach at Maryland, his alma mater, Chris Ash had an opening on his staff to fill. Based on the background of current running backs coach Lester Erb, it seems likely he will move into the wide receiver assistant role. Erb set program records as a wide receiver at Bucknell in the late eighties and coached that position at Iowa from 2000-2007, as well as at Nevada, his last job before joining Rutgers ahead of the 2017 season. Erb did a good job this past season in developing the running back group and would be a welcomed addition in working with a talented, but inexperienced wide receiving core.
Adding Campanile is an out of the box hire for Ash, but one that makes a lot of sense. One major criticism of Ash since he took over the program in December 2015 has been the lack of New Jersey ties on his coaching staff. Recruiting has been somewhere between okay and solid since his arrival, stockpiling 3-star recruits on a talent deficient roster. However, Rutgers has continued to struggle to make progress in landing the elite prospects within New Jersey, a problem the program has had for years. Adding arguably the best high school coach in the state is a huge development for the program. It's a direct line to the parochial schools and the prominent Big North conference as well.
Not only does Campanile carry a lot of weight across the north Jersey high school football landscape, he will be able to attack the state in recruiting in ways many outsiders cannot. His family name carries a lot of weight as well, as his father coached at both Paramus Catholic and Paterson Catholic. His brother Vito is the head coach at Seton Hall Prep and his other brother Nick is the offensive coordinator at DePaul high school. Of course, he also has a brother Anthony, who was the wide receivers coach at Rutgers under Kyle Flood and is now at Boston College as an assistant, where he has had success recruiting the garden state. Now he will go head to head for New Jersey talent with his brother Nunzio now being at Rutgers.
In addition, Campanile was the offensive coordinator at Don Bosco before taking over at Bergen Catholic. He coached two of the most successful quarterbacks in recent Rutgers history at Don Bosco in Mike Teel and Gary Nova. Teel is now the head coach at Don Bosco, so that connection is even stronger now with Campanile on the Rutgers staff.
While Campanile has never coached at the college level, he seems ready for this next step and is a proven winner.
As great as this individual move appears to be, it’s the bigger picture that is most encouraging from my perspective. Chris Ash is proving that he is evolving as the head coach of Rutgers football. He came to the banks with binder after binder of notes, a great reputation defensively, and years of Big Ten and power five experience as an assistant coach. Ash developed a strong culture from the start and improved many aspects of the program, including strength and conditioning, facilities and raising expectations within, holding people accountable, as well as improving the level of competitiveness in everything the players do. However, it was clear from the start that Ash had plenty of learning to do in other aspects of the role, including what it would take to be a successful head coach in the Big Ten and more importantly, what he needed to do to win at Rutgers.
There have been mistakes, including hiring multiple inexperienced assistants in his first season, most notably being former offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. He has received criticism early on for not seeming to embrace the past history of Rutgers, changing some offseason awards and having at least one former player express not feeling welcomed during his tenure. He underestimated the “Jersey Strong” mentality by not having someone on the coaching staff who understood it and was a native to the garden state, making it harder to forge strong relationships in local recruiting. The encouraging part is that Ash has learned from these mistakes and is making changes from when he started.
Entering his third season at Rutgers, Ash now has the most experienced offensive coordinator in his tenure with John McNulty, who checks off several boxes. They include someone with extensive college and pro experience, a history of developing players on both levels, was the most successful offensive coordinator in the past two decades at Rutgers, and someone many former players endorsed to get the job. He has continued to upgrade the coaching staff each offseason, including adding assistants that have Big Ten experience as a player or coach. He also has assistants who are versatile and have coached multiple positions in their careers, which strengthens the overall depth of the staff and gives Ash has more flexibility in filling vacancies year over year. His hiring of Rick Mantz, a well respected and longtime New Jersey scholastic coach, as director of high school relations, was a smart move as well.
Hiring Lester Erb, who coached at Iowa for over a decade, was a great addition last season and his background made it easier for Ash to fill a gap in adding Nunzio Campanile now. Adding a very prominent and successful local high school coach in Campanile sends a strong message to the entire state that Rutgers is serious about keeping its best talent home. In addition, he has hired as innovative an offensive mind as there is in the high school ranks by adding Campanile. With associate head coach/offensive line coach A.J. Blazek, Erb, and Campanile under coordinator John McNulty, Rutgers has a legitimately strong staff on offense.
While Rutgers hasn’t landed a stellar recruiting class under Ash yet, the program has upgraded the talent level on offense considerably and now they have a coaching staff equipped to develop the young players on the roster. With a quarterback room that now includes Johnathan Lewis, Jalen Chatman, and Artur Sitkowski, as well as a unit that has playmakers that are homegrown talents in Bo Melton, Raheem Blackshear and Isaiah Pacheco on the roster, the future certainly seems brighter than it has in some time.
The defense has always been in good hands under Ash’s watchful eye and with the staff he put together. The progress on that side of the ball has been evident so far in his tenure, but the offense has been one of the worst in college football for the past two seasons. Ash has made it a priority this offseason and by adding McNulty, as well as Campanile, Rutgers is in much better shape from a coaching perspective as they begin to prepare for next season.
With all that said, the most encouraging takeaway for me is that Chris Ash is developing as a head coach and is improving on the job. He is moving past his binders of information that he brought with him and applying lessons he has learned in his first two years at Rutgers that he couldn’t find the answers to in any book. Any great leader learns from their mistakes and grows into their role over time. Ash is showing major signs this offseason of improving the program and making bold moves. That should make Rutgers fans hopeful that the program is slowly, but surely, getting better and in time, on the way to becoming a consistent winner.