The national perception is that the head coaching job at Rutgers is one of the least desirable, if not the least, within the power five conferences. The competition on the field and on the recruiting trail is fierce in the Big Ten East. Facilities for football have improved in recent years with the new practice fields, weight room and locker room, but the Hale Center still ranks near the bottom within the conference. The past two coaches, Kyle Flood and Chris Ash, had salaries near the bottom of the Big Ten. The program has lost 19 straight games to power five opponents, including 17 Big Ten contests. The level of talent on the current roster is clearly behind the rest of the conference.
It’s understandable that all of those reasons would scare certain potential candidates away from even considering the opportunity. However, there is one key factor that should make the job very desirable for certain candidates. Expectations in the short to mid-term at Rutgers are lower than they are with almost any other power five program and the potential to viewed a savior of sorts is much more attainable than anywhere else.
Elevating Rutgers football to respectability is the obvious measure of success right now. Winning six games and earning bowl berths on a regular basis, at least for a few years, would make whoever the head coach is truly beloved by the overwhelming majority of the fan base.
Athletic Director Pat Hobbs said the following at the press conference to announce the coaching search:
“I’m looking for the very best coach who will make Rutgers football competitive and compete for Big Ten Championships. That’s why I came here. I want to go to a Rose Bowl. So I want a coach that I believe is capable of making us competitive on the field and competing ultimately for Big Ten Conference championships.”
We all echo Hobbs’ sentiment and ultimately that should be the goal long term. However, back to the current state of reality.
Rutgers is in college football hell right now. A national laughingstock. The worst power five team and it’s not even close. This current team’s biggest upset this season would be to avoid becoming the worst Big Ten team in conference history.
Whoever becomes the next head coach of Rutgers football, whether it’s Greg Schiano, the people’s choice, Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State’s fan’s choice, Bob Surace, winner of 15 straight games at Princeton, or anyone else, they are inheriting a program that isn’t completely six feet under the basement of the Big Ten, but also not that far from it.
Hobbs has hinted at spending more money for the salary of the head coach and their staff than Rutgers ever has. That has to be the case for progress to be made. Resources, time, and patience are needed for the next coach to be able to resurrect Rutgers football.
While that will be a daunting task for sure, it’s arguably easier taking a program at the bottom and elevating it to the middle of the pack versus taking an average team and making it a great one. While six wins and consistent bowl appearances wouldn’t appease any fan base long term, even here, that should be the current expectation and goal for the next head coach for quite some time.
A perfect example of a coach who far exceeded low expectations by producing a consistent winner, although it came with a relatively firm ceiling, was former head coach, current candidate and fan favorite Greg Schiano. He is somewhat of a polarizing candidate due to a loud minority of fans not wanting him back, citing his inability to lead Rutgers to a Big East title during his first tenure. The flip side is that Schiano is also loved by many in the fan base and considered by some as the only coach capable of restoring the program back to respectability.
Why is that the case?
Schiano took Rutgers over when it was a national joke 18 years ago. Sports Illustrated pondered shutting down the football program. He made it a respected team that ultimately went to 9 bowl games in a 10 year time frame, with the last three coming after his departure.
People are proverbially screaming for Hobbs to hire Schiano because of how bad things have gotten and because over the past four decades of Rutgers football, he was the only coach to lead the program to sustained success. Not enough success for some, but for those of us that have endured Rutgers football for years before the calendar crossed over the year 2000, Schiano did what for a long time was unthinkable. He was the equivalent of Buzz Aldrin, landing Rutgers football on the moon by making them nationally relevant in modern times. Now there were several other astronauts over the years that also walked on the moon after Aldrin and the idea that ONLY Schiano can lead Rutgers back from the dead is false. Success at Rutgers has been so scarce over the years that so many fans are broken to the point they don’t believe anyone else can do it here. That’s why the potential for him to return hangs over this job search like a thick fog.
David Jones of PennLive.com wrote here that the current state of Rutgers football isn’t nearly as bad as Northwestern was for over a better part of a decade between 1979-1992. Their 0-11 season in 1981 is generally regarded as the worst team in Big Ten history, as they scored a conference worst 75 points. Rutgers will be lucky to challenge that total this season, but Jones dug deeper than one year worth of results.
Yes, a Penn State writer gave an honest assessment that Rutgers is salvageable and in Jones’ words, “The difference between Northwestern of four decades ago and Rutgers today is, the current team is mainly the result of mismanagement on the part of the adults in charge while the old one occurred mainly because of their abject neglect.”
While Rutgers has been negligent to a degree by trying to do things on the cheap at times in the past, which has burned them, I do think Jones is mostly spot on with his conclusion. Bad decisions have plagued the football program more than anything else. Ash’s tenure proves that, as more resources were dedicated to football than ever before with him here. Even more is needed now to dig the program out of the mess he left.
Whoever does become the next head coach, they will actually be operating in as low pressure a power five environment as possible with what will likely be the most support and most resources ever given to the football program on the banks. For those that argue Rutgers set a bad precedent by only giving Ash 3+ seasons to fix things and that should scare good coaches away this time, I completely disagree. The message it sends is as long as you aren’t a complete and utter disaster on or off the field, you will have plenty of time to turn things around. You can’t let the program become a national embarrassment, that’s in essence the immediate bar for success. Not a bad situation for any competent coach in the high stakes game of college football.
The national media and Big Ten fan bases have long forgotten about Rutgers’ 8 win season in 2014. If the new head coach can bring the program back to respectability by going to multiple bowl games and a consistent middle of the pack Big Ten team, they not only will be a beloved figure at Rutgers, probably forever, but they’ll also be considered a something of a folk hero across the college football landscape.