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It’s time for the Chris Ash era to end at Rutgers

After another mistake filled loss to a power five team, another hopeless season is upon us.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

While Rutgers was competitive for stretches of Saturday’s game against Boston College, there were far too many mistakes for them to seriously challenge for the lead in the second half. Despite having two weeks off to prepare, they committed 11 penalties for 100 yards and had a -2 turnover margin. There were three punts from enemy territory. Even with Quarterback Artur Sitkowski throwing for over 300 yards and looking good at times, the game wasn’t all that close against a team that was embarrassed by Kansas last weekend. It was just more of the same that Rutgers fans have come to expect during Chris Ash’s 3+ season tenure.

The truth is Rutgers hasn’t improved in the slightest from last season and hope is officially dead that significant improvement will occur. This was the game they needed to propel this program forward and show real progress is taking place. It’s time for a change. It’s time for the Ash Era to officially end.

Losing to Boston College by the score of 30-16, who are at best a middle of the pack ACC team, is not a performance that inspires belief anything will change the rest of the season. It’s just more of the same, another defeat to a power five team, the fifteenth straight for Rutgers.

Here are facts to consider during the 40 games that Chris Ash has been in charge of Rutgers the past 3+ seasons:

  • 8-31 record; .205 winning percentage
  • 15 consecutive losses to power five opponents; 13 consecutive losses to Big Ten opponents
  • 9 of those losses are by 20+ points
  • Average score during 15 game P5 losing streak: 34-10
  • The offense has scored 20+ points 9 times in 39 games, the fewest in FBS since 2016. The second worst team in the Big Ten is Illinois, which has surpassed that point total 12 more times than Rutgers
  • The offense has been shut out 7 times, more than all the other Big Ten teams combined
  • The pass offense has thrown for less than 50 yards 8 times
  • The defense has allowed 40+ points 11 times.
  • Rutgers has lost by 30+ points 12 times, which 31% of the games they’ve played under Ash.

Despite only having played three games this season, the writing is on the wall in bright neon colors. This team is not close to achieving significant improvement this fall. In fact, this team hasn’t improved at all and are arguably worse than last season. I’ve seen enough and it’s time to move on from the Chris Ash era. Joyless football is where we are at and there is no end in sight with him in charge.

The longer Chris Ash is the head coach of Rutgers football, the more damage that will be done to the program long term. Yes, he inherited a program in turmoil based on the off the field transgressions of former head coach Kyle Flood. Yes, the roster was lacking talent and depth to compete at a high level in the Big Ten. Yes, facilities lagged behind and the culture needed to be overhauled. I previously said multiple times that Ash deserved five years to have enough time to turn the program around. However, there are several reasons why it’s time to cut that timeline short and move on from Ash.

Recruiting is in shambles and is only going to get worse after getting humiliated by Boston College, the power five program with the most New Jersey players on its roster other than Rutgers. The current 2020 class is the only one within the Big Ten without a four-star recruit committed and is last in the conference. Nationally, 247 Sports ranks the Rutgers 2020 recruiting class 89th out of 130 FBS programs. There are only 65 power five programs, so Ash is recruiting worse than two dozen group of five or independent programs. That’s just awful. Even with a strong track record of developing players, which isn’t close to being the case under Ash at Rutgers, you simply can’t compete in the Big Ten recruiting this poorly. For it to drastically improve under Ash seems to be an impossibility at this point. The damage has been done, he and his staff have failed miserably and it appears to be unrecoverable.

Rutgers fans had fair expectations entering this season, hoping for 4 to 5 wins. That mark seemed reasonable for most to define “significant improvement”, which was the standard athletic director Pat Hobbs determined necessary moving forward after last season’s 1-11 campaign.

At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Rutgers will win another game this season and avoid the dreaded back to back 1 win seasons.

Terry Shea, generally regarded as the worst coach at Rutgers in the modern era, went 11-44 in five years, but even he showed signs in his third season, winning 5 games in an 11 game schedule. Ash plays in the Big Ten compared to Shea, who coached in the Big East. But it’s not like that league was a cakewalk, as Rutgers routinely played top ten teams in Virginia Tech and Miami, as well as Notre Dame and Texas in non-conference play when all four were national powers. And playing Indiana and Maryland really isn’t any different than playing Syracuse and Boston College.

Here is another depressing stat. Ash is 0-2 against MAC opponents and Eastern Michigan, who beat Rutgers in 2017, have the same amount of wins against Big Ten teams as the Scarlet Knights do in the past three seasons. Eastern Michigan is 3-0, while Rutgers is 3-25. The excuses that Ash needs more time to develop the roster falls apart with that fact alone.

Season tickets were reported by NJ Advance Media’s Keith Sargeant to be 16,585 entering this season. That’s a pathetic low and a 47% decline from the 2015 season when Rutgers went 4-8 in Kyle Flood’s last year at the helm. Announced attendance from last season was 37,799, which was the program’s lowest since 2005. Even so, that number is far less than the actual number of fans attending games. Sargeant reported the average tickets swiped for seven home games last season was just 20,071, an 17.8% decline from 2017. That number will likely be even less this season.

If the product on the field remains this poor, Rutgers will be lucky to have 10,000 season tickets sold next year if Ash remains as head coach. It’s one thing to not connect with a fan base all that well. It’s another to come across as not really embracing the program’s history. However, when you are perceived to be poor at both AND you haven’t beaten a power five opponent in 686 days, that’s a perfect nightmare situation and a program in crisis.

Enough is enough.

I know the buyout of Ash will cost the athletic department $7.5 million at the end of the season, closer to 9 million right now and probably close to another $2 million for the assistant coaches. It will cost a great deal more to hire the right person to save this program and hire a proper staff. However, the cost of not doing anything is far greater. Pat Hobbs has done a tremendous job in many areas as athletic director. Unfortunately, the first decision he ever made at Rutgers just one week into his tenure has jeopardized his legacy.

Football has become the laughingstock of college football and is without a doubt the worst power five program in the country. Something has to be done. The loss of revenue and the damage taking place to the Rutgers brand is felt across the University and athletic department across the country. Perception is reality and despite being one of the best public academic and research institutions in the world, social media is filled with negativity towards Rutgers because of football. There are so many positives occurring across the athletic department alone that are being completely overshadowed.

Ash has officially lost the fan base. Hobbs can make a statement by dismissing Ash now, expressing to fans that the state of the program is simply unacceptable. While he has preferred to wait until after the season to make changes with other programs, it would be wise to make the move now.

Rutgers having any chance to win more than two games during the stretch from October to early November against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Liberty and Illinois seems improbable. With Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State to follow, there seems to be no chance Rutgers can win more than three games and even that seems highly unlikely at this point. Keeping Ash on board and hoping he somehow turns things around in October is the ultimate pipe dream.

The point is there seems to be no way Rutgers will achieve significant improvement this season after losing by two touchdowns to Boston College. That was the expectation set by Hobbs, so why drag things out? Forget politics, waiting on a new President to take over for Robert Barchi or the financial difficulties and put capital in the faith of the fan base. Take action now, take time to plot the right course moving forward and rally the big money donors to help make the right decision. Hobbs has proven to be a deft fundraiser and has inspired belief that better days are ahead at Rutgers. With coming closer to a full share of Big Ten revenues two years from now (Rutgers borrowed some ahead of 2021, so will technically still be receiving less), he is smart enough to figure out how to make this huge financial commitment work.

“Faith without results”, something Ash asked for last season, is just as insulting now as it was then. The Ash era has been a disaster on the field, despite his strong work ethic and running a clean program, which he deserves credit for. While Ash has made some improvements within the culture and inspired more facility improvements than in any time before, the results on the field are ultimately what matters.

Purdue fired Darrell Hazell midway through his fourth season with a record of 6-36 in 2016. First year head coach Jeff Brohm won at least six games both of his first two seasons. It took a significant financial investment to bring him to West Lafayette, but that’s what it takes for progress to occur, especially for programs coming off several losing seasons in a row. No one expects Rutgers to compete for championships anytime soon, but they need to compete with the bottom half of the Big Ten and that hasn’t happened under Ash. Today’s performance doesn’t inspire confidence that will change.

Everything that Hobbs has preached with “the relentless pursuit of excellence” for the athletic department is damaged by football. It’s fact that Rutgers has only gotten worse on the field with Chris Ash as head coach and is the worst power five program in FBS. It’s time for Hobbs to restore some faith by dismissing Chris Ash and getting the next hire right.

As fans, we aren’t asking for championships, just respectability. A change is necessary for that to ever happen. Hope is dead. The time to make a move is now.