With Greg Schiano returning to Rutgers Football, there will of course be renewed expectations on the banks for improvement over the difficult years we’ve faced over the past several seasons. Though the program is in better shape from financial and facility perspectives than it was when he first took over the program in 2001, there are severe and obvious issues plaguing Rutgers football at the present time.
Years of poor results on the field have left recruiting in a place where, since 2018, the vast majority of our commitments have come from players with no other major conference offers. Rutgers lacks depth, particularly at most skill positions and especially on both sides of the line, and this lack of depth combined with poor game planning has led to even further, negative results on the field. It’s a negative feedback loop of suck, and regardless of our own differing opinions on the hire, our hope with Schiano is he will serve as the catalyst to break the pattern of awful play we’ve experienced since 2015.
In figuring out how long it will take for Rutgers to reach respectability, I should probably define what it means regarding “respectability.” Yes, Pat Hobbs said publicly when announcing the coaching search that he was looking for someone to lead Rutgers to the Rose Bowl. But unless the Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan football teams and coaching staffs somehow disappear into the Springfield Mystery Spot, the Rose Bowl is not something I am optimistic about anytime in the near future.
What I feel is respectable is something along the lines of a 6-6 record and a bowl game. Who among us wouldn’t sign up for this every day and twice on Saturdays, given how depressing the last few years have been?
When a college football program needs a new head coach, 90 percent of the time, there are issues that need to be addressed. These issues are always different, but as I see them with Rutgers at the present time, our issues are:
1. Public perception being in the gutter – until we change the narrative around here, the Rutgers as national punching bag trope will continue to persist and negatively impact the team on the recruiting trail. Say what you will about Schiano, at least he has FBS head coaching experience (which is, I believe, unprecedented for Rutgers) and can speak to previous success at Rutgers with recruits.
2. With the exception of maybe running back and special teams, Rutgers is thin on talent at the present time. And with only 12 seniors/redshirt seniors on the roster, barring a rush on the transfer portal, it’s not like the 2020 recruiting class could immediately improve things. With a limited amount of time to recruit and few open spots (assuming the new staff honors commitments to existing recruits, which they should and probably will do), barring a miracle, we’re looking at the 2021 class in order to make an impact.
3. Rutgers is playing in the toughest or second-toughest conference in FBS, and only have one open non-conference spot in the years ahead, so wins will never be easy to come by. The non-conference schedule won’t be doing Rutgers too many favors, either, with lots of familiar foes (Temple, BC, Syracuse) appearing over the next several seasons alongside the annual FCS game. That being said, Florida State has won 11 games total the last two seasons, so sometimes juggernauts falter and it’s not fair to say the conference will always be a pressure cooker.
To me, the easiest way to project how long it will take to get to respectability – again, six wins and a bowl game – is to look at comparable situations. Let’s look at some and see how long it took each coach to reach six wins and a bowl game:
Greg Schiano, Rutgers, 2001-2011
The situation: Let’s start with the obvious comp. Schiano’s precedessor, Terry Shea, won more than three games in a season one time. The team had been largely a dumpster fire in the decades before Schiano’s hire, with only one bowl appearance to speak of. Early in Schiano’s tenure, Sports Illustrated actually suggested our program fold in a high-profile cover story (this was back when people used to read Sports Illustrated).
How many seasons it took: Five, though we started to see progress in Year 3 when Rutgers went 5-7. They exceeded the six-win threshold with a 7-6 2005 campaign and an appearance in the Insight Bowl.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, 2006-present
The situation: Fitzgerald was hired when his predecessor, Randy Walker, died suddenly. Walker’s performance by win-loss record prior to his unexpected passing was mediocre by any stretch of the imagination, but successful by Northwestern standards. Northwestern’s history of football futility makes Rutgers’ last few seasons look like a magical fairytale land of success. Between 1978 and 1991, Northwestern won 24 games. Not 24 conference games, 24 GAMES. So it wasn’t like Fitzgerald walked into Notre Dame or anything, with respect to historical expectations for success.
How many seasons it took: Fitz went 6-6 in his second season, though arguably, it took three seasons for the national media to notice and for Fitzgerald to win Big Ten HC of the Year. Most impressive about his extended run has been its consistency; this season will be only the third season since 2007 where Northwestern won’t make a bowl game.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State, 2016-present
The situation: Campbell took over a dumpster fire in Ames. His predecessor, Paul Rhoads, went 8-27 in his final three seasons at the helm, and the Cyclones were at that point considered a perennial dumpster fire of the Big XII.
How many seasons it took: Only two! Campbell, who had considerable success at the Group of Five level with Toledo, hit the ground running at Iowa State and went 8-5 in only his second season, beating Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. He went 8-5 in year three and is 7-5 headed to another bowl game this winter.
Jeff Brohm, Purdue, 2017-present
The situation: Purdue’s last decade is actually an interesting comp for Rutgers. Between 1997 and 2007, Purdue was a perennial bowl team under Joe Tiller (having Drew Brees at QB for four of those seasons certainly helped!), but the fields were barren after Tiller left Purdue. Under their next two coaches (Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell), Purdue largely struggled, being bowl eligible only twice between 2008 and 2016 (and not at all between 2013 and 2016, where Hazell went 9-33 over four seasons).
How many seasons it took: Brohm, who like Matt Campbell had demonstrated consistent success in a lesser conference prior to his hiring, turned things around at Purdue almost immediately upon his hiring in 2017, making the team bowl-eligible in each of his first two seasons. This season has been more challenging for Purdue, though injuries to their top two QBs haven’t helped, and Brohm still appears on solid footing from a job security perspective.
So how long will it take for Rutgers to reach respectability again?
Here’s my semi-educated guess. The program is in a better place than 2001 Rutgers, but not as good a place as 2006 Northwestern, 2015 Iowa State, or 2017 Purdue. Summing up, I predict RU can win six games in Year 4 (2023).
It’s a little ridiculous projecting out that far, because programs can change a ton in four seasons. But that’s a good thing for Rutgers, because it’s hard to envision a scenario in four years where the Big Ten East is tougher in 2023 than it is in 2019! Remember, though: in Year 4, Schiano’s first recruiting class will be seniors, and he’ll have the benefit of three more classes (each hopefully representatively stronger than the one before it) – they’ll all be his guys, at this point.
All of this depends on your definition of respectability, though. If you’re comfortable with 4-5 wins and not being a national laughingstock anymore – maybe even hearing the BTN pregame show talk about how it’s no longer easy to play Rutgers anymore – we could see this in the next two seasons, maybe. And if you’re looking for the Rose Bowl, keep dreaming, because I really do feel that Rutgers is two head coaches away from that being even a remote possibility.
What do you think? Share your predictions in the comments below.