On a day that Greg Schiano was introduced as head coach of Rutgers football and asked the entire state of New Jersey to go all in with support of his program, another highly visible coach was in the room already doing just that. Rutgers men’s basketball head coach Steve Pikiell has shown in his three plus years on the banks that he gets it. He has shown support for many other athletic programs at Rutgers during his tenure, both publicly and behind the scenes, as well as the entire university. So it was no surprise that he was one of three current coaches in attendance during Schiano’s introductory press conference on Wednesday, despite the fact he didn’t return home from the previous night’s game at Pittsburgh until early that morning. (note: wrestling’s Scott Goodale and golf’s Rob Schutte were as well).
I asked coach Pikiell what he thought of Schiano’s return to Rutgers and he said, “Awesome to have him back. I think you can see the outpouring of emotions from alums, former players, current student-athletes, everyone is excited. He is a Jersey guy. To have someone back that has been in that chair before and that’s won at the level that he has, it’s huge. For him to come back and take on the challenge now is exciting. I’m excited about going to football games.”
When Pikiell took the men’s basketball job in 2016, he mentioned how he would drive up and down the New Jersey Turnpike in previous jobs, having the thought of one day landing at Rutgers in what he has previously called his “dream job.” I asked Pikiell if the prior success that football had with Schiano helped with him wanting to do the same with basketball at Rutgers as well all those years ago. “Sure. I remember those great games and watching them on television with the Stadium packed. Hearing him in those press conferences and following the job that he did when he was here”, Pikiell said. “Once I got here, I heard all the stories. People would come from every corner talking about the job that coach Schiano did the first time. I’m excited to work alongside him.”
Regarding Schiano’s return and what the administration did in making it happen, Pikiell was quick to point out how great an effort many people made to make it a reality. “You saw all the hard work that goes into getting a contract like that done. It’s the Governor, the BOG, Pat Hobbs, the trustees, Greg Brown, the media. These aren’t easy decisions. I’m just glad those people got in a room and got the job done. They made the best decision for Rutgers University.”
On whether a successful football program would benefit basketball, Pikiell was adamant that it would help more than just his own program. “Football is unique. The alums come back to games on Saturday’s when they are off from work. You see the pride. We play in the best football conference in the country. It helps everyone. It helps all of our student-athletes. The regular students want to go to games. The more success you have in football, the more I think it helps everyone at the university.”
Regarding the impact that turning around Rutgers football would have overall, Pikiell continued, “I’m looking forward to the job that he is going to do and the recognition that it will bring to this great university. It’s helps with morale, it helps with alumni, and development. It’s a powerful sport that has 24/7 coverage. It’s great to have a coach with his leadership and integrity back here at Rutgers. He will bring great recognition to the university.”
As for the future of Rutgers athletics with Schiano leading football, Pikiell was optimistic and hopeful. “I think he and Pat are going to make a great team raising money and doing great things. They are going to have an unbelievable relationship.”
Having a successful football program is integral in the overall success of any power five athletic department and as usual, coach Pikiell gets it.