After more than a month of speculation, weeks of negotiation, and a week of recalibration, former Rutgers Football Head Coach Greg Schiano has returned to the same position effective immediately. Here are some quick hits on the decision’s impact.
- It ends the overall uncertainty/upheaval. When Rutgers Football has shown promise on the field in the past century, it has almost always been accompanied by stability off it. Some teams and programs feed off turmoil and drama, but Rutgers has rarely been one of those. This is what we are doing, get on board, or get off the boat. I wrote this point weeks ago, but after the last week of pendulum swing, the importance here is magnified significantly.
- Recruiting boost. Work in the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes has been virtually stagnant since Chris Ash was let go (some would argue sooner). There are rumblings that Schiano was able to do some work behind the scenes that a current HC either wouldn’t have been allowed to do OR wouldn’t have had time to do during the season. With the added time, maybe Rutgers can seal the deal with a few young men (currently committed or otherwise) in the early signing period. Maybe even an early enrollee or two? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
- Fans in the stadium. Turnout for the final two games this year was awful as hope was lost. The fans who couldn’t handle the beat downs may at least have a glimmer of hope to cling to whether or not they keep season tickets. If nothing else, hopefully some who purchase season tickets for next year will get VIP treatment this offseason.
- Linebackers loose. If there is something Greg Schiano always got year in and year out, it was inspired play from his linebacking corps. Schematically, I doubt Andy Buh will change for one game and the next DC may have his hands tied early in 2020, but a few extra blitzes from a group of talented linebackers may be critical to keeping morale up during the expected continued struggles on the field.
- Blackshear and Sitkowski clarity. The quarterback and running back (plus others in the transfer portal) will likely decide their plans quite soon. I thought about putting this in the immediate category, but Schiano should at least wait until an offensive coordinator and philosophy are identified. Then the uncertainty surrounding two of the team’s more talented players should be decided and all parties can move forward with whatever those decisions are. It’s unlikely (though at RU you never know) that players in the portal will have their scholarships pulled at the end of this semester.
- Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. Early in his career Schiano saw some ugly performances against 1-AA (now FCS) teams, but outside of a random scare against FIU on Sept 11, 2010 RU usually handled business when it held a clear talent advantage. Schiano had a way of getting his team prepared even against teams with little film and imposing RU’s will on them.
- Transfer portal in both directions. This is a bi-directional one. On one hand, a lot of the Rutgers players with maybe two-three years left (like Daevon Robinson) will decide to ship out rather than go through another rebuild. On the flip side, more Drew Singleton type players may return to the banks for a shot at a fresh start. Schiano has a reputation of running such a tight ship that players who may not have succeeded elsewhere may benefit from the KGB type leadership style. Word is that Schiano has reviewed over 100 players in the portal who could help this team, though who knows how many actually arrive on the banks.
- Offensive philosophy. Schiano was generally a ground and pound type coach, but to his credit he embraced the aerial attack (2005 and 2008 most notably) when RU did not have the horses to shorten the game with three yards and a cloud of dust. It will be interesting to see what his baseline offense is and who is brought in to run it, but I have confidence the OC carousel will not continue. This individual should be in place before the early signing period for certain. That’s looking like a tight deadline now, but if anyone on the earth already has the wheels in motion, it’s Greg Schiano.
- Continuation of a clean program. Chris Ash for the most part ran a very clean program where players were disciplined quickly for questionable behavior. It was more of a guilty until proven innocent that was good enough to get the team off probation from the Kyle Flood era. The credit card scam wasn’t your typical off-field violation, so I can’t say Schiano could have prevented that one. That said, one reason Schiano is being brought in is as a reputation for being hard on his players and them thriving within those boundaries. Greg wasn’t immune to a few problems now and then, but they are 18-22 year old kids and clearly those who took the reigns afterward (i.e. Kyle Flood), couldn’t manage the players and support staff as effectively.
- Rutgers wins a Big Ten game. I have a feeling this will happen in 2020, but until Rutgers can just win a conference game, there will be no respect outside the Hale Center. Not even from many of the academic buildings on the other side of the Raritan. This is a very early step in a rebuild. With a loss to Penn State, RU will be in sole possession of the second longest conference losing streak in Big Ten history.
- Tension in the athletic department. This won’t happen right away because provision of funds is all speculative at this point. That said once decisions for future academic years are made, other sports may be drained of resources that are being allocated to football. If football starts winning and bringing in more cash, there will be a bigger pie to split. This was an issue even before negotiations broke off, but now the magnifying glass will be even more on every move.
- Linemen, linemen, linemen. Yes Greg Schiano prefers a faster, attacking defense. Yes his defenses were on the smaller side even for the Big East, but how many of his defensive linemen ended up playing on Sundays? A lot. And the offensive side of the ball, he had more NFL players on the 2006 offensive line alone than probably the entire Ash era will when we look back. Rutgers will never have a line to challenge Ohio State man on man, but simply reaching a level to give skill position players a chance is a requirement.
- DBU part Deux? The McCourty twins who arrived as two-star recruits and became NFL stars have been two of the most outspoken proponents of a Schiano rehire. Sure Bless Austin and Saquan Hampton were drafted last year, but no one would go around claiming Rutgers was where you wanted to go as a defensive back to get your best chance at the next level. With Michigan State in major turmoil, perhaps now Rutgers can strike as the place lower-rated defensive backs know they will get the best combination of coaching, playing time, and matching up 1 on 1 with the five-star athletes week in and week out to prove people wrong.
- New Jersey’s team. The title is still up for grabs after lackluster play from the Jets, Giants, and Eagles this year. Though I expect strong New Jersey flavor in Schiano’s first coaching staff, it may take another year to truly assemble the staff he wants to best recruit the garden state. Schiano is a Jersey guy through and through, and damn proud of it, the polar opposite of Ash who was perceived as an outsider from day one and never helped his own cause. Getting those preferred walk-ons who would rather stay and play in the Big Ten than play Group of Five or FCS elsewhere cannot be valued enough for a program that needs to embrace the underdog mentality. Rutgers has rarely gained support of the entire state like other teams (Nebraska and Wisconsin the best examples), but the closest they ever were was under Schiano. Remember the days before the Block R bumper stickers on people’s cars?
- Rose Bowl or bust? I don’t think Greg Schiano takes Rutgers to a Rose Bowl. Then what? Do we have bigger aspirations? Will be his last stop after four to seven win seasons every year that bring us to random bowl games half the time? What will it take other than a scandal that would cause the two sides to part ways after all this hoopla?
- More facilities, primarily field house to replace the bubble. The most notable and contentious on the list of Schiano’s demands according to some folks (but not all) will happen ... eventually. This will help recruiting for Greg or whomever is next. Other demands could pop elsewhere on this list, but the indoor practice facility is the elephant in the room that actually matters.
- Florida pipeline? Fan optimism that Schiano can re-open the Florida recruiting connections needs to chill. First of all, Schiano came to RU from Miami (FL) the first time so those relationships were already warm. Second of all, USF, UCF, and many other southern programs outside the Sunshine State, like Georgia State, were nothing then. In the social media / streaming era anybody can play on TV every week and be seen anywhere in the country, why not do that in a warmer climate?
- Put up or shut up. The luster will be lost after about 18-30 months if this team does not pull an upset or at least have continually improving hope. The first time around, Schiano got the benefit of the doubt as a first time head coach. But as Adam Gase has been skewered with the New York Jets in his first season, the patience with Schiano regardless of how long his contract is for will be less than the first go around.
Had the negotiations never began, I think Rutgers could have hired someone else without all the backlash received over the past week. But once those who wanted Schiano got their wish, those on the fence (like me) got on board that this was what we were doing, and those who didn’t want Greg agreed they would support the program anyway, this reunion had to be done. If not, the next coach would have had a steep hill to climb at no doing of his own, which would have been completely unfair. And at the first sign of trouble there would be another media / fan / state taxpayer firestorm.
I’ve already been on record with saying that I think there are better long-term candidates out there. Unfortunately, Rutgers does not have unlimited time and therefore used the head start in the coaching search to close the gap in a few areas listed above. So with booster support and the idea that other than landing a superstar like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban (who some Alabama fans demanded be fired after their loss to #1 LSU! ... still laughing about this as an RU fan), re-hiring Greg was the best way to drum up interest in the immediate and short-term. I can clearly see why Rutgers Athletics did what they did because anyone else would not have been given a fair shake.
Hopefully it works out, I’m wrong about the Rose Bowl, and am flying on a plane with my dad there one day since he promised he would go if his alma mater ever made it.