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The Pros and Cons of Greg Schiano returning to Rutgers Football

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Former Head Coach is a leading candidate for same role in 2020 on the banks.

Louisville Cardinals v Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Schiano has a chance to lead Rutgers out of the tunnel again.
Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Long before today’s news that Chris Ash had been fired as the Head Coach of the Rutgers Football program, the message boards thrived on the contentious topic as to whether the right move would be to bring back Greg Schiano. Let’s dive right in to the pros and cons of such a decision if Athletic Director Pat Hobbs were to go that route.

Pro: New Jersey Guy - Recruiting & Fundraising

The directly ties into two key elements of a Rutgers Football coach, local recruiting and fundraising. If you were to hire Schiano now, there would be an opportunity to rebuild many of the local connections that helped Rutgers enroll some of the best talent within a three hour radius of Piscataway. This cannot be undersold because New Jersey is a talent hotbed and Schiano even when he didn’t secure the very best players in New Jersey, New York City, and Eastern Pennsylvania at least he was under consideration. Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, etc. will always steal some top talent but keeping schools like Iowa, North Carolina, Boston College, and even Temple at arms length is crucial.

The fundraising Pat Hobbs has overseen since he became Athletic Director (roughly a week before he hired Chris Ash) was something many said could not be done. Chris Ash deserves credit for properly prioritizing what his program needed most, but you would be hard pressed to find that many donors who would say Ash was “the closer” for their donations. Schiano by many accounts had “no personality” when he arrived on the banks, but still has just a little more than Ash and likely can parlay it into enthusiasm about the program as he did the first time around.

You can see Pat Hobbs values the Jersey connection in his naming Tight End Coach Nunzio Campanile as interim Head Coach, likely realizing his mistake in not putting enough stock in the Garden State. This choice makes a lot of sense when you think about all the events a head man has over the next few weeks, i.e homecoming. In other sports, Hobbs has at times pulled people without specific New Jersey ties, but they have had Northeast connections like Steve Pikiell, Jim McElderry, and Steve Owens.

Those guys all had good success at lesser programs not less success at a bigger one ...

Con: Recent results disappointing

The Ohio State defense under Schiano was underwhelming despite the four and five star talent in 2018. Despite back to back Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl win, Greg was fired as defensive coordinator after last season. So the obvious question is, if he couldn’t slow Big Ten offenses with superstars, how can he do it with lesser players?

Success is a relative term though because the 2018 Buckeyes still went 13-1 and that’s more wins than the entire Ash era at Rutgers. Giving up 39 points to Michigan looks pretty bad (ok maybe not after yesterday) but the Buckeyes put up 62 of their own in that contest. Critics will point to the Maryland OT win (52-51) and the puzzling Purdue 49-20 loss, but the other 11 wins never allowed more than 31 points to the opposition and as I have written at length, 28-31 points is expected of most college offenses in the modern era when all the rules favor the offense. We just aren’t used to that.

Even with these mitigating factors, giving up points with superior talent has to be viewed as a red flag, but perhaps Schiano can spin this into a positive. Maybe he is better at coaching up and motivating underdogs with a chip on their shoulder. Without superstar players to succeed, you need to really be in touch with the small things ...

Pro: Detail oriented

Chris Ash had notebooks on notebooks on notebooks on all his travels as a head coach, but yet somehow did not seem as detail oriented as Greg Schiano. Ash has things like the exact time the team will board the bus to a hotel down to a science, but so did Schiano to a similar extent. Moreover, Greg seemed to be able to alter his coaching as it pertained to that week’s opponent or an individual player he had at his disposal after watching the film. During the Ash era we only saw this a few times, the best example being Ash and Jay Niemann’s game plan against Purdue in 2017. And other than Janarion Grant and Raheem Blackshear, did RU ever do this on offense recently?

Off the field, the story Keith Sargeant (I believe it is) tells is that even on Schiano’s last day at Rutgers after the announcement he was taking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL Head Coaching position, Greg still could not walk past a piece of trash lying on the ground. He understood the optics (broken window theory) and even Steve Politi pointed out that Schiano never would have let parts of the stadium appear unpainted or misaligned. Winning on the field matters more than anything else, but Chris Ash never won the perception battle. At times, Schiano did.

When he didn’t it was usually because of ...

Con: Stubbornness

Even in my family, Schiano was at times known as a “blockhead.” This is oddly an area where at times Kyle Flood (the only thing he may have done better than Schiano) was better at beating the teams you are supposed to beat. Schiano usually did, but could be victimized (i.e. Cincinnati 2006, Fresno State 2009). Sometimes Schiano was so hell bent on even the most minor detail, the team crumbled as a result. Chris Ash didn’t always even beat those squads, nevermind pull an upset.

The biggest philosophical question facing this program and likely Pat Hobbs is, will Schiano’s ground and pound ideas still prove effective? John McNulty who worked under Schiano a decade ago adjusted his ideas this season under Ash with minimal success, so the worry is that the same offensive plan will not work. As we learned with Ash at the helm, even a supposed “defensive genius” needs to understand offense. And one would think they would to truly be successful, a la The Last Samurai.

At times, Schiano was so hard on his star players they couldn’t handle it. I believe Greg had to be this way to recruit some of the character questionable players he did to Rutgers. You saw what happened once Kyle Flood was overseeing many of those same guys, but Schiano was able to be such a “hard ass” as I saw one commenter 247 put it, it worked. Tom Savage thought Greg was being too hard on him in 2010, but realized he made a mistake too late after transferring. In fact Savage tried to return to RU after leaving Arizona, but was denied by the NCAA. That is telling, but you have to remember these are 18-22 year old kids and now in the social media era, will Greg have the same level of control?

Pro: Development

Players are just like regular people, they respond to success. Starting with star players like Savage, the best example is Anthony Davis. Davis and Schiano did not get along... at all. Davis was the top recruit in New Jersey and still, despite not liking Schiano, went to Rutgers. Though they had their differences, Anthony was a first round draft choice after just three years on the banks. Countless other talented players started right away, but did show improvement in their time like Mohamed Sanu, Courtney Greene, and of course Brian Leonard. Even the star players in the Ash recruiting classes struggled to gain traction often.

The player development under both Kyle Flood and Chris Ash was sorely lacking for the non superstars as well, but Schiano had this figured out during his first run at RU. How many players came out of nowhere to be on the two-deep as a junior or senior? That whole linebacking situation a mess in 2016 for Ash, Schiano had guys ready to plug in at LB every single year. Kevin Malast, Alex Silvestro, the McCourty twins, etc. all turned into NFL players despite being barely three star recruits. The same was true at defensive back, wide receiver, etc.

There are so many examples of players who Schiano’s regime coached up, including walk-ons. One thing that teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Iowa (the Big Ten programs RU needs to emulate) do so well is keep players in state as walk-ons who could go elsewhere. Jim Leonhard, the Wisconsin DC, was a walk-on for the Badgers because of his state pride and ended up with a long NFL career. Gary Brackett was not recruited by Schiano, but it was under Greg that he became team MVP before going to the NFL. Paul James and Michel Burton arrived under Schiano, though they blossomed during the Flood era as well.

At every level of player, star, three-star, walk-on, Schiano got the most out of his individual contributors. So why did RU not win more games?

Con: Game Day coaching

This is all relative, but I do not consider Greg Schiano a great game day coach. Part of the reason for his success was that the Big East was chock full of similar types during his time like Dave Wannstedt, Randy Edsall, and times Jim Leavitt. You can see why those gameday stars like Brian Kelly, Mark Dantonio, Dana Holgersen, and Paul Chryst did so well. Kyle Flood and Chris Ash were not great in game coaches for the most part either, so many fans’ stance on Schiano changed in hindsight.

The game has evolved and some of those same names haven’t managed to have any level of success since. Randy Edsall for example went back to UConn and was a disaster. With Schiano’s recent struggles, the ability to make in game adjustments to turn the tide of momentum which now always results in points is crucial. I’ll give Schiano credit that if his team was getting whipped, he often helped the team make corrections, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The bigger issue was often he would be lulled into a false sense of security against an equally matched opponent.

Case and point: the West Virginia problem. Rutgers never got over the hump against the Mountaineers. Even in a blizzard. Even with the 2006 squad and an Orange Bowl berth on the line against a backup quarterback. Forget all the other meetings. WVU had better teams than RU on the whole, but if you couldn’t beat them ever, how will you beat Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and most of the time Michigan State in your own division?

Other than that one debilitating example of West Virginia since RU did beat Louisville even when they were good and South Florida when they were good, Rutgers was able to at least scare some big time teams from time to time. In addition to beating #2 USF in 2007 and #3 Louisville in 2006, Rutgers shocked Michigan State in 2004, scared #1 Miami for three quarters in 2002, and despite entering the game at 2-5, Rutgers beat the snot out of 17th ranked Pitt in 2008. They never gave up, they rarely entered a game after about 2002 that they didn’t think they could win. Why?

Pro: Preparation

So many times in the Chris Ash era, Rutgers just did not look ready to play. There were very few of those in the Schiano era after the New Hampshire debacle of 2004 outside of the 2010 season when Eric LeGrand lay paralyzed in the hospital. Rutgers came into games knowing that their coaching staff from Schiano on down had spent countless hours identifying the opponent’s weakness or possible weakness. They didn’t take opponents for granted usually and had wrinkles ready even when facing an FCS opponent.

Especially when you don’t have the talent of your opponent, you can’t show up with a vanilla game plan. The one time Rutgers did most notably for Schiano was their 2006 loss to Cincinnati. Another time was in 2008 against North Carolina, but Schiano and co. eventually adjusted as the season went along to often be a much better team late in the year. Other than the wind-aided performance against Big Ten West champion Northwestern, when did Ash pull this off? With the zillion wide receivers RU has on the current roster, we never see a special package for any of them they may have mastered.

The most telling statistic to me about how good a coaching staff is at preparation lies in their Bowl game record. Of course you need to get to a bowl game to be judged, but when you do that gives your team a month or so to prepare. You have four times a normal preparation window and will usually be facing a team of roughly equal caliber. You don’t play Ohio State because they are in the Rose Bowl, you face a 6-6 UNC team, a 7-5 NC State team, a 6-6 Arizona State team, or Ball State. That ASU game was a loss, but it was one of the most exciting games I ever watched and Rutgers clearly had a great offensive game plan. When given time, Schiano had the edge over the opposing sideline.

Con: What happened with the Patriots

The New England secrecy is hard to cut through. So what we can be sure of is that Greg Schiano was hired in February 2019 then resigned March 28, 2019. The reasons cited more time with “faith and family.” Sure NFL coaches work insane hours, but not as much as college ones, especially the Head Coach. The Head Coach of a college team works basically 365 days a year, whereas the pros have lulls in the off-season. Does Schiano have the same energy in the tank he did the first time around?

Unless this was all part of the plan as reports have begun to surface that it may have. Who knows more about the resignation without coaching a game than Bill Belichick? Belichick and Schiano were friends and continue to be, so you’d think Greg would have stuck to his word in New England, not force Bill to name himself defensive coordinator late in the game.

Maybe the reason that situation went down the way it did was because Schiano knew the Rutgers position could open again sooner than later as some reports indicate.

Pro: Not currently working

The biggest advantage if Pat Hobbs wanted to hire Greg Schiano is he could be available immediately. This is the same reason a name like Butch Jones is being floated. Jones is working as an analyst, but is not even one of the nine assistant coaches on the field for the Crimson Tide. You could see someone like Jones abandoning his post, but most other quality candidates are busy on the sidelines for another team at this point in time.

Schiano could come in right away and start building relationships with the existing players. This may stem the tide of attrition via the dangerous transfer portal and immediately bring credibility and hope. It may get more people in the stands over the remainder of this 150th anniversary season and recoup some of the potential lost revenue.

This would allow more time for recruiting which Aaron indicated can’t afford to fall behind in the Big Ten. Schiano has proven he can recruit in the past, so getting that leg work done with more time before the early signing period would be a huge boost. Rutgers needs every little advantage they can get at this point, so why not take advantage of one more?

Con: Quarterback development

At this point, everyone knows that quarterback is the most important position on a football team. At times, a good quarterback can win you a game or a bad one can throw away a golden opportunity. Some people I have spoken to point to the lack of quarterback development during the Schiano regime as a reason for concern.

There may be another coach out there who is much better at tutoring quarterbacks and this day and age that may be more important than all the other pros listed above. For example people including me point out that Art Sitkowski is “not ready” and yet the Buffalo Bulls under Lance Leipold played tough against Penn State with a freshman under center. Leipold is a front runner in this area, but plenty of other candidates have better track records than Schiano on this topic. This is a little dangerous though as we have seen at the pro level recently, but is strongly worth evaluating for Hobbs.

I believe that Schiano’s perceived weakness has some roots in fact, but compared to what we have seen recently on the banks Schiano is much better. And I don’t think his quarterback track record is as bad as we thought. Yes he went with Ryan Cubit (offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s son) over Ryan Hart, but Hart still developed into a more than capable Big East starter. Then yes Schiano threw Mike Teel in too early partly to motivate Hart, but Teel ended up just fine eventually. Schiano wanted to play Dom Natale, but was forced to go with Tom Savage as a true freshman who didn’t disappoint. Then Savage did leave after he was benched for servicable Chas Dodd, but as is worth mentioning again, Savage attempted to return to Rutgers. Schiano stole Gary Nova who struggled as a freshman but ended up just fine as well by his senior year. That track record isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly not terrible.

None of these guys were considered “mobile quarterbacks” and most successful non-powerhouse teams lean on one of those nowadays. Greg did understand this earlier than many others by trying Mohamed Sanu and Tiquan Underwood in the hated “Wild Knight” that all of us now understand was the right idea. Schiano also wanted guys like Jabu Lovelace and Terry Shawell to seize the starting job, but that did not happen. Was this a failure of Schiano or could he find a mobile guy this time around?

My personal opinion

I think there are likely better candidates for this job on paper. There is justifiable debate as to whether Rutgers is the worst coaching job in the Power Five, but the type of personality that it takes to win at a place like Rutgers is one that embraces the type of challenge. Greg Schiano has that personality and maybe so did Chris Ash. Very few of those personalties are not roaming a sideline right now. As Aaron mentioned in his discussion with Lance on our emergency podcast, by firing Ash this early in the season, Pat Hobbs can use the time to get a jump on other schools with a coaching vacancy.

Schiano did win at Rutgers. Being one game over .500 isn’t amazing and one of the reasons people at Tennessee thought they could do better, but Rutgers was the doormat of college football when Greg arrived. The Scarlet Knights are the worst team in the Power Five right now, though the job is still better than Kansas and they landed Les Miles! Pat Hobbs has made excellent hires in almost every other sport, so I have confidence he will find the right guy in football this time around.

Regardless of who is hired to lead the program into the next decade, I will support that individual; if it is Greg Schiano or not.