The Rutgers football head coaching search was turned on its head with news that Greg Schiano was out of the running to return after the two parties failed to reach an agreement. There should be concerns of who Rutgers turns to next and what level of financial commitment they are willing to make. Lance Glinn and I discussed this on our podcast discussing the fallout with Schiano, but I also mentioned a candidate that hadn’t been identified as a true candidate until late this morning.
James Kratch of NJ Advance Media reported late Tuesday morning that Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has “emerged as one of the names atop the Scarlet Knights’ list as their coaching search begins anew.”
The former Rutgers assistant under Schiano would be an exciting option to become the next head coach of the Scarlet Knights in my opinion. Hafley was actually hired at OSU to replace Schiano in the co-DC role before this season. The Montvale, New Jersey native is currently making $950,000 at Ohio State. The no. 2 Buckeyes are currently 11-0 heading into their rivalry game against Michigan this weekend.
During his time as an assistant at Rutgers between 2010-2011, Hafley was the lead recruiter in signing Gary Nova and Leonte Carroo. While serving as defensive backs coach at Rutgers, Hafley mentored current NFL players Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. The pass defense for Rutgers was ranked 9th in the country that season.
At Ohio State, Hafley is currently ranked the 4th best recruiter in the country per 247 Sports after being credited with landing 8 current recruits in the 2020 class for the Buckeyes. While Hafley built his reputation as a strong recruiter for five years at Pitt under former head coach Dave Wannstedt before his time at Rutgers, he hit the ground running at OSU this season after being away from the college game for several years. They also currently have the 2nd best pass defense in the country.
Hafley left Rutgers with Schiano when he became head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. He was the secondary coach there for two seasons, before taking on the same role for the Cleveland Browns for two seasons, followed by the same role for the San Francisco 49ers for three more seasons. He returned to the college game to join the Buckeyes last winter.
“I remember when we were with the 49ers,” Day said during his Tuesday press conference. “I told Jeff that he had an unbelievable combination of recruiting — because he was a great recruiter when he was in college — and an ability to relate to players.
“He can be an All-Star. I think Jeff is an All-Star. I thought that when he was at Rutgers and at Pitt. I felt like that when I worked with him in the NFL. I feel like that now. His work in Jersey is and is going to pay us dividends in the end.”
The same article asked Hafley about his Jersey roots, in which he answered:
“We listen to Bruce Springsteen, and we like the bagels and the pizza,” Hafley told Lettermen Row ahead of a homecoming with the Buckeyes visiting Rutgers on Saturday. “I know a lot of the guys in that area. I grew up with a lot of those guys. I know a lot of those guys that are coaches now who were coaches even when I played in high school.
“New Jersey people stick together and we all kind of understand each other.” “I know it sounds cliché, but if you’re not from there, you may not understand,” Hafley said. “It’s more than where we’re from, it’s who we are.”
Quotes from 4-star OL commit Luke Wypler from St. Joseph’s and Cody Simon, a 4-star LB from St.Peter’s told Berm the following about Hafley:
“Coach Hafley grew up around the corner from my high school,” Ohio State offensive line commitment Luke Wypler told Lettermen Row. “In the same town, no less. We’ve had, roughly, the same high school experience. That’s always a topic of conversation. He’s just so relatable and he understands what it means to be tough and from Jersey.”
“He’s a straight-up guy. He doesn’t beat around the bush, and he tells you how it is, good or bad. I believe that a lot of recruits respect that.”
“He understands a lot of what we go through in Jersey,” linebacker Cody Simon, a 4-star commitment from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, told Lettermen Row. “Overall he’s a very relatable guy. He’s passionate but you also get that authenticity from him.”
I understand the concern about Rutgers not hiring a candidate with head coaching experience. It should be a concern, but at the same time the pool of interested candidates that have that experience appears to be limited, based on the names being reported as currently in the mix. They include Los Angeles Rams assistant Jedd Fisch, Michigan linebackers coach Anthony Campanile. Kratch’s article also referenced Bret Bielema as a potential candidate, who is currently defensive line coach for the New England Patriots but previously went 97-58 in 12 years as a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas.
With Schiano in the rear view mirror and Butch Jones reportedly not back in the mix after interviewing in early November for the Rutgers job, it remains to be seen who else could emerge as a candidate. However, even if others names do enter the mix, I feel strongly that Hafley should be seriously considered as the next head coach for Rutgers football.
Although just 40 years old, Hafley has 18 years of coaching experience with 11 in college and 7 in the NFL. He has worked for several successful head coaches, including Wannestadt, Schiano, Kyle Shanahan and Ryan Day.
I understand the concern of taking another Ohio State co-DC, but this is one of the top programs in the country, so get over the Ash deja vu syndrome. There are key differences between the two.
Hafley is a dynamic and successful recruiter, something Ash was never considered or even marketed as being. Hafley has strong New Jersey ties and proven success recruiting in the garden state with three different programs (Pitt, Rutgers, OSU), something Ash never had even as head coach of Rutgers. He like Ash has a defensive background and expertise is with the secondary and against the pass, which is key with the spread being the typical offense seen in college football today. His personality is such that it would resonate with the fan base and recruits alike.
While he has mostly been an assistant coach, he is on the national radar as a head coach in waiting. He will become a power five head coach at some point in his career and sooner rather than later. Hafley is also equipped with understanding the challenges that leading Rutgers brings with it, something Ash didn’t have and most candidates outside of the Campanile brothers wouldn’t have either. He also is very close with the architect that made Rutgers successful once before in Schiano.
Hafley would come to Rutgers as prepared for the difficult task ahead as well as anyone, even some head coaches not experienced with what this job entails. The reality is the negative perception that has been created with the Rutgers-Schiano process, it’s unlikely an experienced head coach with northeast ties would emerge as a candidate. Hafley presents an option that while not perfect, brings a lot of positives to the table. He would need time like whoever does become the head coach, but potential should intrigue every Rutgers fan as to the possibilities.
The Scarlet Knights let two former Schiano assistants slip away in the past that are very successful as head coaches in Mario Cristobal, now leading no. 14 Oregon (9-2) and PJ Fleck with no. 9 Minnesota (10-1). Hafley will have good offers coming his way in the future and at worst, likely due a big raised with the Buckeyes after this season. At the very minimum, Rutgers should interview him and gauge his interest. It’s possible he would not be interested, based on the challenges that exist on the banks at this time and potential better offers in the future. However, if Rutgers was able to sway him and likely for somewhat less than Schiano was offered, he could likely build a very strong assistant coaching staff that could still include both Campanile brothers. His connections are strong throughout the NFL and college coaching circles, making his assistant candidates broader.
With the top target in Schiano no longer in play, AD Pat Hobbs and Rutgers need to catch lightning in a bottle to move the program in the right direction. Of the names being currently discussed as candidates, Hafley gives Rutgers the best chance to do just that.