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Offensive Identity should be a priority in search for next Rutgers head coach

With the struggles on offense the past few years, the next person to take over the program needs to solve the problem.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Minicamp Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The debates are raging on social media and the message boards on who Rutgers should turn to leading the football program moving forward. Greg Schiano has predictably been at the front of many conversations online and our own David Anderson weighed the pros and cons of his candidacy here. However, I think it’s important no matter who is considered that a priority on offense is made when considering who the next head coach should be. While we don’t know what Hobbs and the power brokers alongside him are thinking, it’s likely the direction of the offense will be a hot topic when considering candidates. It certainly should be.

For one, the streak is back on, as interim head coach Nunzio Campanile is also serving as offensive coordinator, ensuring the fact that Rutgers has had a different one every year in the past decade. The offensive struggles grew worse under former head coach Chris Ash, who changed systems all four seasons he was here. The Scarlet Knights have scored 20 or more points just 9 times over the past 40 games under Ash. That a bakers dozen less than Illinois, who are second to last in 20+ point games among the 14 Big Ten teams since 2016. That includes 8 shutouts and 8 games of 50 yards passing or less in the Ash Era for Rutgers.

While there is a debate among fans about who is the best choice to be the next head coach at Rutgers, for me a big name or having many years of head coaching experience are less important. The two things that I think should be a priority aside from the obvious stuff like running a clean program and creating a strong, supportive culture is a) recruiting and b) an offensive identity/plan.

Now that doesn’t mean the most polarizing figure in this job search in Schiano should be disqualified because he is a defensive coach. First of all, he would bring immediate recruiting buzz and he knows how to build a competent staff that will recruit well. He would also be the best bet to set the ticket office on fire and create genuine hope within the fan base. However, the important thing is IF he is interviewed is what is his strategy on the offensive side of the ball? Who would be his OC targets, what system does he want to run, would it differ from his first stint at Rutgers now that they are in the Big Ten? Really, these are questions for any candidate. It’s not a case against a coach like Schiano, who would bring plenty of positives with him, but heightens the need for a defensive minded coach to come with a specific plan when they interview.

What can’t happen is hiring a defensive minded coach who doesn’t have conviction on what the offensive identity of his team should be. That’s what happened with Chris Ash and disaster followed. Rutgers lost 6 of its 26 Big Ten games under Ash allowing just 24 points or less on defense, but the offense just couldn’t keep up.

The one name outside of Schiano that has been mentioned often is Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead. Whether he is actually interested remains to be seen, as he is in just his second season at MSU after winning 8 games the year before. He checks several boxes, having had a very successful two season run prior as the offensive coordinator at Penn State, which came after he resurrected FCS program Fordham into a top ten team at that level. His offensive philosophy, which helped make RPO (run-pass-option) so popular, is examined in great detail here in an interview with SB Nation last year.

Another offensive mind that should warrant consideration actually coaches right down the road from Rutgers. Bob Surace led Princeton to an undefeated 10-0 season last year with an offense that averaged 47.0 points per game. He was an All-Ivy center in 1989 and was an assistant offensive line coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for six seasons before coming to Princeton. He has produced four Ivy League offensive players of the year in his tenure and his offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson was hired away in the offseason to serve that same role at Oklahoma State in the high scoring Big XII. It’s no secret the Rutgers offensive line is not at the level needed to be successful in the Big Ten and Surace would be a positive factor there. Also, while it’s fair to question as to whether he could recruit at a Big Ten level, just know he landed QB Brevin White in the class of 2018, who held offers from Alabama, Minnesota, Washington and Tennessee. Surace knows how to recruit quarterback, a position Rutgers has struggled mightily, as White hasn’t even cracked the two-deep in his second year with the program.

Butch Jones has a strong head coaching background after successful stints at Western Michigan and Cincinnati, before being fired in his fifth season at Tennessee. Jones is known for running the smashmouth spread offense, which is predicated on exploiting specific matchups against the opposing defense. Jones is qualified for many reasons, but his ability to recruit talent playmakers that can be successful in his offense is a selling point in his potential candidacy. For the full profile we wrote on Jones, click here.

One out of the box candidate I think is worthy of consideration is Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They currently lead the NFL in total offense and are the only team in the league to average over 200 yards rushing through four games this season. Roman is a South Jersey native who even coached one year at Holy Spirit high school in Absecon. He is considered an innovative football mind and was the offensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers. There has been talk within college football circles of late due to Michigan’s offensive struggles in recent seasons that Harbaugh hasn’t had the same success because he hasn’t had Roman as his OC. He has now worked for Jim’s brother John in Baltimore the past three years in multiple roles. He has mentored dual threat quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Lamar Jackson over the past decade.

Roman previously was a finalist for head coaching jobs at Penn State and Pitt, which went to Bill O’Brien and Todd Graham at the time, as well as turned down the job at Tulane. He doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he has strong ties to Jersey and a strong NFL background running innovative offenses. Obviously he would need to assemble an experienced staff and the timing of the NFL season could be an issue, but if you are Rutgers and have had one of the worst offenses in college football for years, I can’t imagine it would hurt to at least have a conversation with Roman.

Who knows, if Rutgers can shock the college football world and win multiple games the rest of this season, perhaps Pat Hobbs will give a serious look to interim head coach Nunzio Campanile. Yes, I’m aware it’s likely Hobbs’ preference to keep him as the offensive coordinator for whoever else is named head coach. However, that could create a tricky situation when interviewing candidates who could want to bring their own OC with them. Rutgers has seen many talented young assistants leave for greener pastures over the years, including his brother Anthony, Jeff Hafley, PJ Fleck, and Mario Cristobal to name a few. It seems Hobbs is aware of this and is making Nunzio a priority.

My point is this, the next 8 games gives Nunzio an opportunity no other candidate has. If he can coach this offense to life in a way we haven’t seen in years and they win because of it, it should warrant him serious consideration. The Campanile family is high school coaching royalty in New Jersey and his 2017 state championship at Bergen Catholic made Nunzio a household name in his own right. A lot has to happen before he should be considered, but if we are discussing bright offensive minded coaches that have proven they can recruit New Jersey, his name should be included.

Whether Hobbs and company hire a head coach with an offensive or defensive background is yet to be determined. Whoever it is, they must come in with a detailed strategic plan on how to bring Rutgers into the modern age of offensive football. Maybe the coaches name won’t wow fans from the start, but developing an exciting offense that makes Rutgers competitive again surely would.

For all of our coverage on the job search so far, click here.