What a long, strange trip it has been. After weeks of negotiations that came to an abrupt end on November 24th, followed by fan, booster, and former player outrage that set social media on fire, a $300K+ campaign pledge from fans if a deal was made, as well as outreach to Governor Murphy’s office, who appears to have helped close the deal, the process has finally ended the way many RU faithful always wanted it to. Greg Schiano will be the next head coach of Rutgers football.
Per a report from Steve Politi, Keith Sargeant, and James Kratch of NJ Advance Media, Greg Schiano has agreed to a deal to become the head coach of Rutgers football for a second time.
BREAKING NEWS: Greg Schiano returns as Rutgers coach after miraculous reversal https://t.co/PNxp3JjYw0— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) December 1, 2019
It’s time to break out your favorite axe Rutgers fans, as the football program is soon to be “chopping wood” once again.
Ever since athletic director Pat Hobbs fired Chris Ash on September 29th, the calls to bring Schiano home to Piscataway grew louder by the day. Hobbs outlined a timeline of the search process on September 30th to have a new head coach in place by the end of the season and included hiring a search firm to assist. Instead, just two candidates were interviewed. Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones met with Rutgers officials in early November, followed by Schiano meeting with Hobbs, as well as Board of Governors member and athletic committee chairman Greg Brown soon after. Ultimately, the favorite pick by many Rutgers fans and big pocketed donors was chosen to take the reigns of a football program mired in a 23 game losing streak to power five opponents and winless in its last 21 Big Ten contests.
A smooth search process, this was not. It lasted over three weeks and was halted, only to be resurrected by public outrage and political pressure. Schiano now has the honor of having two fan bases create an online riot of sorts, as Tennessee infamously campaigned against his hire in 2017 and now Rutgers fans made a passionate plea to the administration and politicians to bring him back to the banks. Ultimately, that is what happened
With negotiations including certain facility requirements that led to agreeing to building a new Field House to replace the bubble, as well as extending the length of contract and assistant coaches salary pool. These upgrades to the program will help close the gap with the rest of the Big Ten and are necessary from a perception standpoint. Details will emerge of what the actual plan is, but, it’s an example of Schiano coming back to Rutgers with eyes wide open on what is needed to help rebuild the program a second time, but in a more competitive conference and under a brighter spotlight. He used the most leverage he will have during his second run at Rutgers during negotiations to jump start what is needed from an infrastructure perspective.
During Schiano’s first tenure at Rutgers from 2001-2011, his overall record was 68-67. However, context is needed. Rutgers went 9-35 in the five years before Schiano with Terry Shea as head coach. The calls for Rutgers to leave big time football and join the Patriot League were real and Sports Illustrated questioned whether the program should cease altogether. That all changed because of Schiano.
Over the past 60 years, every Rutgers football head coach has been fired but one. That includes John Bateman, a college football Hall of Famer, as well as Frank Burns, the winningest coach in program history. Both led Rutgers to undefeated seasons but still left against their will. The lone survivor? Greg Schiano.
Despite going just 12-34 in his first four seasons, clear progress was made with 4-7 and 5-7 records in his third and fourth campaign’s. From there, Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to six winning seasons over the next seven years and a record of 56-33. Rutgers had been to one bowl game ever before Schiano, and then went to six bowls over that seven year period. Even after he left to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, teams at Rutgers made up primarily of his recruits went to three straight bowl games before the program fell apart under Kyle Flood. Chris Ash helped clean up and restore the culture to a degree, but on the field results were even worse. Even on the academic end, the program has been less successful.
While there was no perfect candidate that Rutgers could have hired, it’s to argue that Schiano is the best hire reasonably possible in the short term. He brings instant credibility on the recruiting trail, both at national and local levels. His return galvanizes a fan base yearning for the decade long span of annual winning seasons and bowl appearances. Schiano makes Rutgers relevant in the Big Ten immediately, even if it takes a few seasons for them to be a factor on the field. Most importantly, he brings the knowledge and experience needed to elevate Rutgers football from a national laughingstock to a respectable one, both in the conference and across college football.
Whether Schiano is the right choice in the long term, say 8-10 years from now, remains to be seen. While it’s certainly possible he can lead Rutgers to a Big Ten title at some point, it’s more likely the ceiling caps below that aspiration. If it becomes routine for Rutgers to win 7-8 games with annual bowl appearances under Schiano, it would still mark significant progress to where the program has been the past five years, having gone 13-47 over that span with zero postseason games. With the current state of the program, Schiano hitting that type of ceiling on an annual basis would justify his return as the right decision. How long that takes remains to be seen, but the hope should by year four, possibly year three if things really click, that the program is middle of the pack in the Big Ten and returns to bowl games on an regular basis.
What Schiano’s offensive philosophy will ultimately be and whether he can establish stability on that side of the ball, something that has been missing for the past decade plus and started at the end of his first tenure, are key factors in his ultimate success. There is belief he will adopt a spread offense, which would make it even more likely that current interim head coach Nunzio Campanile will remain as part of the coaching staff. While I find it unlikely that Campanile would retain the role as offensive coordinator, a role he took on after John McNulty was fired, he seems a lock to be on Schiano’s staff.
With all that being said, it’s not wins or losses that truly defined the first Schiano era of Rutgers football. Yes, the Louisville win in 2006 was the program’s defining moment, but that’s not the core of what having Schiano as head coach was truly about. As the great Bob Hope said, “When we recall the past, we usually find that it is the simplest things, not the great occasions, that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness.” In regard to Schiano, it was the stability and identity he provided in leading the football program that mattered most. He made Rutgers relevant and gave the program credibility. He was trusted by fans and while he wasn’t loved by all, there was a certain confidence in having Schiano in charge. His ability to develop less sought after recruits and manifest “the state of Rutgers” when the university’s brand recognition was lacking was monumental. He made people believe in Rutgers football and is now tasked to do the same once again.
In addition, the way he handled the the car accident in 2004 that severely injured Manny Collins, Eddie Grimes, and Dondre Asberry, as well as the 2010 play that paralyzed Eric LeGrand garnered respect due to his grace and class in the face of tragedy.
In this 2014 interview with Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, Schiano said of his time at Rutgers, “Real success is leaving a legacy. I think we built something, left a legacy and that can be sustained.” He was right about the first two parts, but sadly all he built has been burned to the ground, the foundation covered in nothing but Ash.
Schiano’s ability to adapt from his first run as head coach at Rutgers and apply lessons learned from all of his experience gained since leaving are key to his future success as well. His time at Tampa Bay, although not successful, as well as at Ohio State, which produced mixed results, were two high level roles that should give him greater perspective.
He can’t expect the landscape of Rutgers to be the same as before and his ability to work with the Rutgers administration, which will be all the more interesting after strenuous negotiations, is something that will be important in his success. However that ultimately develops, time and patience are key. He is well prepared for this challenge, but he isn’t a savior either.
He is now returning to rebuild a program that he left healthier than ever, but is in just as bad a place as it was before. It won’t be any easier and arguably harder now that Rutgers is in the Big Ten. His three years as defensive coordinator at Ohio State will serve him well in knowing the best course to elevate the program within the conference to a level of respectability. Rutgers needs Schiano and there is no one who could lead this football program that cares more about it than him. Let the chopping begin!
UPDATE: Schiano was formally approved as head coach by the BOG on Tuesday.