Is Rutgers football destined to go back to the future, or is a brave new world close to being thrust upon the fan base? In the past two and a half weeks since Greg Schiano reportedly met with athletic director Pat Hobbs, as well as Board of Governors member and athletics committee chair Greg Brown, its been a slow roll towards what always felt like an inevitable end: Rutgers reuniting with its former coach with the hope of restoring a program in much worse shape than he left it when he departed almost 8 years ago.
Instead, we are into the second to last weekend of the 2019 season and almost two months since former head coach Chris Ash was fired with many more seasons questions than answers. After much speculation, it appears at the present moment that not many people outside of the inner circles of both sides know much of anything in regard to the current status of negotiations.
We learned at the beginning of the week that Schiano was reportedly “all in” regarding returning to Rutgers, that both sides compromised on the facility plans, but were now negotiating on the amount of guaranteed years and annual salary for Schiano, as well as the assistant salary pool. It appears the terms are somewhere in the ball park of 6-8 years guaranteed, $3.5-$4.5 million per season and an assistant salary pool of $5-$6 million. There has been some added concern that the Board of Governors, which needs a majority vote among its 14 members to approve any deal regarding the next football coach, might be at odds in regards to rubber stamping the return of Schiano.
Also this week in the annual fall New York Times article on why Rutgers is a failure with football, it was reported that Hobbs spoke to Ohio State AD Gene Smith about Schiano regarding his time working for the infamous Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Smith reportedly told Hobbs “there is nothing there.”
A few days later, two investigative reporters from NJ Advance Media published an irresponsible piece on Schiano that included an advocacy group claiming he was “negligent” and “had a responsibility as a member of the coaching staff to be aware of the conditions his students were (exposed) to” while at Penn State as an assistant coach. It was a reckless and ludicrous assertion that Schiano is at fault in any way for the horrific crimes of Jerry Sandusky and there has never been any evidence that he was ever aware of anything, other than triple heresay that he denied to be true.
On Friday, the Football Scoop reported a reason for the hold up is that Hobbs and Schiano are in a power struggle. They claim Schiano has asked for full control of the football program, while Hobbs attempts to stall negotiations and extend the search into December so other candidates with current jobs can come into play. Let me say, respectfully, that when national publications report news on Rutgers, I take it with a grain of salt until it is corroborated by sites and reporters who cover the athletic department on a daily basis.
On Sunday, potential Plan B options were reported.
Good grief, we are officially the point when the Rutgers football coaching search has turned into a weirdly scripted soap opera. At this point as fans, it’s hard to not be completely sick and annoyed with everyone involved. Being a Rutgers fan over the years, with the lone exception of a decade span between 2005-2014 that begun in Schiano’s first tenure, has been as painful as I can imagine in regard to having a rooting interest in college sports. It’s been like channeling Charlie Brown when Lucy, time and time again, pulls the football out from under him right as he goes to kick it.
There is a lot at stake for the major players in this saga.
For Greg Schiano, the opportunity to cement his legacy and restore the program he worked tirelessly to build from virtually nothing when he took over in 2001, only to see it burned to ashes by the two coaches who came after his departure, is approaching a point of now or never. If Schiano truly wants to come back and play the role of hero, but to do it in a way that he is all in, he needs to make some compromises. Perhaps he has done so already in negotiations, but if he is dragging Rutgers through this search to squeeze every dime and ounce of control out of them in the process, it doesn’t breed confidence his approach will be any softer than the first time he ran the football program.
For athletic director Pat Hobbs, his own legacy and future at Rutgers somewhat hangs in the balance, as the embattled leader has been under fire like never before. Although the New York Times report indicated he asked about Schiano to his former employer in August, it never seemed like that was his planned endgame. Once big donors got involved in the process, perhaps more than Hobbs anticipated, they pushed hard for Schiano. After the softball story broke, it certainly appeared the dynamic of the coaching search changed and Hobbs was no longer the sole driver of the process.
Which brings us to the third major player and appears to have the most power in all of this. For Greg Brown, his reputation is on the line as well, at least among the Rutgers fan base. The highly successful businessman and CEO of Motorola who has served American President’s George W. Bush and Barack Obama has desperately tried and failed to help restore Rutgers football ever since Schiano left in early 2012. He and his wife Anna generously donated four million dollars for the new locker room in the Hale Center that opened right before this season. He has seemingly led the push to bring back Schiano along with other prominent donors. He is a loyal son and an asset to Rutgers, but he has received somewhat of a pass publicly despite being a strong advocate for the hiring of Chris Ash after he was endorsed by Wisconsin AD and friend Barry Alvarez.
What is the common ground for these three key figures? Hopefully, the strong desire to make Rutgers football a respectable program once again. Together, it can be achieved. Setting aside differences for the common good is a must. However, with the time that has passed, it’s fair to wonder if the three of them will actually come to an agreement at all.
As part of the last home game of the 150th anniversary season, Rutgers honored Eric LeGrand on Saturday against Michigan State. It would have been a storybook beginning to the sequel to have Schiano take part in the ceremony, as the two have an obvious and deep connection. Alas, it was not to be. However, LeGrand took his moment on the big stage and made his public pitch for Rutgers and the BOG to do whatever has to be done to hire Schiano. Now the bigger question is will there actually be a reunion with Schiano at all?
Rutgers has so far to go before becoming a winning program and so much is at stake right now. If Schiano doesn’t return and at the start of December Hobbs is beginning the search all over again instead of announcing the new coach as he originally planned, it would be a huge blow and another laughingstock moment on the national stage. It’s recoverable and a solid hire could still be made, but Rutgers would be seriously questioned as to whether they are willing to commit to the investment needed to build a winner in the Big Ten. The BOG needs to prove that they are or the program could be pushed back even further into college football irrelevancy.
At the same time, if Schiano isn’t willing to concede some of his demands or requirements to take the job, however you perceive it, he needs to truly go all in by making it work for both parties and hold up his end of the deal. If he really wants to be here and be successful, his willingness to adapt to the current times at Rutgers and not live in the past is a must.
At the end of the day, everyone needs to work together to achieve what we all hope for, Rutgers to be a winner once again.
It’s time to figure it out and make it happen.