As you may have heard, Chris Ash has been removed from his position as the Head Coach of the Rutgers Football team. Nunzio Campanile who had been coaching the Tight Ends was named by Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs as the interim Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. The Athletic Department held a press conference Monday that doubled as Campanile’s first address of the media and the normal weekly press conference in advance of this weekend’s game with Maryland.
Here are my five biggest takeaways from listening to the press conference.
1. “I don’t think there will be any major changes.”
The second question of the press conference came from Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media who asked Campanile to confirm he would serve as offensive coordinator (he later confirmed he will be calling plays). Nunzio did and then replied to the follow up inquiry about what changes would be made on that side of the ball. Nunzio mentioned there’s only five days before the next game so it’s about “Streamlining”, “Making sure that the players understand what we do. Maybe some minor tweaks in the way that I see things ...” A later question about who was starting this week at quarterback was answered that Art Sitkowski will get the nod.
A more specific question came near the conclusion with an answer: “Basically my thought process had always been that we are a multiple-i team that adds the elements that come with the spread offense, whether that’s the RPO stuff or it’s the quarterback reads or whatever. Really, the biggest thing is what can our kids handle and what can we get to. I think that we have all the things built in to do what I would like to do, but you know, it’s really going to come down to what can our players execute because we have to put them in a position to be successful. That’s the most important thing because they have to feel confident in what we’re doing.”
Dave’s take: I think this is the right approach, you can’t just re-invent the playbook and expect to have it be functional. We have seen 18 months of John McNulty’s terminology and work result in back to back Big Ten shutouts, and it’s not like McNulty never had success before (cough ... Drew Mehringer). A fresh set of eyes and a focus on different specific concepts each week might just be the right spin and success will breed confidence. Jerry Kill did this quite well and honestly RU was working from a smaller playbook even in 2017 wins like Illinois and Purdue. If all terminology and concepts are “in” then the players have the toolbox to run plays they have never run before during a practice week. Then maybe execute in a game.
For the second part, it seemed important to take the entire quote without a paraphrasing of Campanile’s philosophy. The fact that he called Rutgers a “multiple i” team is something that is the McNulty playbook. McNulty also mentioned that you need to only give the kids plays they can handle, but maybe Campanile has a better grasp of what that subset of the playbook is at a given point in time. Let’s hope.
2. “I’m sure it’s a mixed bag.” “Everybody in the room, including me, is here because of Chris.”
“What have you see from the players and how they react to it?” was the jist of the question. Nunzio gave a lot of other coach speak about how the team has opportunities and needs to stay focused. He highlighted the role in communication by the leadership council and the captains.
Dave’s take: This was a down to earth, not overly dramatic answer. Campanile seems to have that authentic, personable quality Rutgers needs right now. Yea, people have mixed feelings about any change of this magnitude. The fan base has mixed feelings about seemingly everything and we aren’t thinking about Rutgers Football all the time like the people in that locker room no one hears about like analysts, student volunteers, support staff, etc.
It was an interesting way to put it that all of them, save a few 5th year guys are there because of Chris Ash. You have to feel for the student-athlete and it seems that Campanile gets that. Will it result in a win or two? Hopefully.
3. “We have a lot of like minded people. While I’m talking to you those guys are working hard to try and put things together.”
Steve Politi landed a good question about how Campanile will divide his time to both run a program and serve his duties as offensive coordinator. Nunzio began by talking about how the entire offensive staff as a whole works together. He mentioned every coach by name including Drew Lascari who is now the quarterbacks coach. “There’s a lot of continuity and we are going to count on those guys ...” He concluded his answer without diving into any of the other parts of running a program.
A later question also indicated people would be shuffled around internally, but no one is being added from the outside. Hmmm. Hobbs did not deny that anyone from the outside (i.e. Greg Schiano) could be added during his press conference, but at this point that is not the plan. Hobbs indicated the goal is to have someone in place by the end of the season.
Dave’s take: This is pretty much standard operating procedure. One of the coordinators becomes the head guy in the interim and other people adjust their roles within the organization. Adding someone from the outside would just add to the chaos. If that person is not working now it leaves the door open for person joining before season’s end, but it is not imminent.
The one word that interested me was “responsibility.” I took that to mean Nunzio’s responsibilities were more things like getting the team ready to play, avoiding attrition, generating enthusiasm, and keeping the existing program afloat. I wonder if a follow up question honing in on that word will surface in a future presser.
Some may take the lack of clarity about other aspects of the program that Campanile hadn’t gotten that far yet, but I am not worried. He does have former head Coach Pete Rossomando on staff at least. Plus as we mentioned before with Chris Ash, would words regarding off the field subjects really influence how we feel anyway? And what can we really expect from a midseason coaching change at Rutgers, it’s unprecedented!
4. “The guys we have committed we are going to honor and do everything we can to keep them. I don’t think it’s my responsibility to be out there offering guys scholarships, I’m in the interim coach.”
As you expected from the #3 above, a follow up question about other aspects of the program was next. Nunzio had to answer a question as to how he’s handling the recruiting aspect of his new role. He concluded that the staff wants to keep kids interested but “hold down the fort and stay status quo.”
Dave’s take: This was the right answer, but also highlights the need for a coach to be in place sooner than later. From what we understand from recruiting services like 247 sports, Campanile is the lead recruiter for seven of the current ten commits in the 2020 class. So if he can keep New Jersey programs interested and players understanding that Rutgers University is more than the head coach, power to him. One of the reasons Campanile was working with the tight ends (the smallest group on this team for sure) was so he had more time to recruit.
The timing of this coaching turnover is actually not bad considering how few scholarships are opening up for next season because Rutgers has so few seniors. The Scarlet Knights will have a small recruiting class barring insane attrition in the transfer portal anyway so the damage this off-season is not as bad as it likely would be in other years. So if they can keep the existing commits, it may not be a completely lost class. That said, other schools are offering scholarships right now, while Rutgers is not. Then again even if RU was, how many people would newly commit to this uncertain future?
5. “I’m just going to go do my job the best I can.”
The question was “Do you hope to be a candidate for the permanent job?”. Campanile was almost caught off guard by the question initially (perhaps on purpose), but recovered quite humbly. “I would tell that you I’ve worked my entire life to prepare myself for this opportunity and to me, this is like the Holy Grail, so of course. But I understand there’s a lot more that goes into that and that’s way over my head. I’m just going to go do my job the best I can.”
Then Campanile had to answer a question about how ready he is for this and began with some charisma. “I guess we’ll find out in the next eight weeks. The truth is, I think that football is football. I’ve literally spent my entire life on a football field. I’ve been on a football team since I’m five years old. My dad is a coach. All my brothers are coaches. Basically every positive male influence in my life was a coach in some way, shape or form. You know, I think that I’m prepared to help these guys going forward, but the biggest thing is, you know, just keeping them focused on the task at hand. I’m not really worried about the future. I’m just worried about getting ready for practice tomorrow.”
Dave’s take: Football is Football, but head coaching at the college level is not the high school level. That being said, coaching at a Parochial School like Bergen Catholic or Don Bosco is more akin to life as a college coach than some small Group 1 school. BC and DBP have to recruit 8th graders which is even less of a known commodity than high school players. Donors of such schools are much different than the local Booster or Lions club. So Campanile is more prepared than the average High School coach, but Power Five College Football is a huge jump even from Group of Five or FCS.
The super grasping at straws scenario is if Hobbs already told Nunzio he is not going to get the permanent job. That would explain why he didn’t have an answer, or may have just been good acting. Then if RU somehow goes on a run to win a few games under less pressure, it’s a good problem to have for a variety of reasons. 1. Campanile maybe is awesome or 2. it shows the next guy how Jersey pride matters and there is more talent on this roster than Chris Ash could show.
BONUS: “[Chris Ash] He’s probably the hardest-working guy I’ve ever met in my life.
Campanile didn’t have to say this, but it was one of the things he mentioned early in his opening statement.
Dave’s take: At least Ash’s struggles weren’t for lack of trying. At the same time he couldn’t have done better without something major changing. It goes to show that hard work is important, but not always the whole story.
On the plus side, hopefully Ash’s example is one those around him will continue to realize the importance of when combined with outside the box thinking. Just because you make radical changes doesn’t mean hard work isn’t critical. Both go hand in hand at a place like Rutgers.
Let us know your thoughts on these takeaways and find link to Campanile speaking below.
Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh did not speak like he usually does because Pat Hobbs took the stage instead. Read Aaron’s summary here of what Hobbs had to say.