Athletic director Pat Hobbs met with the media following the weekly coaches press conference and answered questions regarding the job search to find the next head coach of Rutgers football. Here are several key areas he addressed and my take on his comments.
Why Hobbs retained Ash after last season
When asked about why Ash was brought back after a 1-11 campaign last fall, Hobbs made it clear a major reason was making sure he was given enough time to succeed and the importance of showing that.
Hobbs said, “I think one of the things you have to do is you have to give the coach an opportunity to be successful, and I wanted Chris Ash to have this off-season and this training camp to come forward into this season and to be successful. Look, if you’re going to get somebody to come here to Rutgers University, they have to know you’re going to be patient with them and that’s why I made the decision I did at the end of last season. As you know, we had a very young team, and we continue to have a very young team. I thought we made great progress through training camp this summer, but unfortunately we have just not seen that on the field. So now I want to give us the best opportunity to bring the very best coach to Rutgers University.”
AB’s Take: This aspect of his decision to retain Ash in order to show there is patience and time given to turn things around has been speculated on for a long time. It’s refreshing that Hobbs highlighted that and shows that even though he delayed the decision to part ways with Ash, he was playing the long game in regard to have a selling point in this area with potential candidates in this new search. Reading between the lines, the message seems to be if you avoid having 1-2 win seasons, you are going to be given at least 5 years to turn the program around. Whether that could have been properly explained anyway if he fired Ash after three seasons is debatable but a fair question to ponder.
Hobbs was specifically asked about how long the job search process would take and he said, “my intention right now is that we would hopefully be in a position to announce at the end of the season.” Later in the press conference, Hobbs elaborated, adding “But we need to be deliberate in this. We need to be able to move quickly, if necessary. You know what happens in coaching right now, and likely as we near the end of the season, we’ll see some other openings open up.”
AB’s Take: Hobbs obviously doesn’t want to rush the decision, but the timeline he indicates leaves a lot of room for interpretation. For example, if Rutgers does decide on a pool of candidates that are not currently college head coaches, with Greg Schiano being the prime example, would they still wait until the end of the season? That would take away a potential advantage of having a coach in place before the end of the season so they could start recruiting immediately.
Now, it does seem based on Hobbs’ comments that we’ll cover in a minute that the pool will certainly be widen from a group of non-working head coaches. However, it would be difficult to have identified a new coach among working ones by the end of the season, based on the timing of it. Perhaps Hobbs was including bowl season when he said that and not specifically about the regular season? The early signing period is December 18th through 20th, which is right at the beginning of bowl season.
It just seems a bit unclear as to how much active work they can do with coaches currently working other than due diligence for two months. I’m not saying they should rush the process and not wait by settling for an unemployed candidate, but rather the point is by saying they want to announce the new coach at the end of the season really doesn’t tell us much.
Hobbs was not specific in naming potential candidates when asked by the media, but he didn’t shy away from having high expectations for whoever he does ultimately hire as the next head coach of Rutgers. He stated, “I’m looking for the very best coach who will make Rutgers football competitive and compete for Big Ten Championships. That’s why I came here. I want to go to a Rose Bowl, right. So I want a coach that I believe is capable of making us competitive on the field and competing ultimately for Big Ten Conference championships.”
Predictably, Hobbs was directly asked about whether former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was a candidate and he replied, “anyone who can help Rutgers football be competitive and win conference championships is a candidate for this position.”
He also wanted to clear up some misinformation that the national media has been reporting. In regard to whether Hobbs has spoken with any candidates yet, he firmly replied, “No. And I repeat that, because I know there’s been reports out there of agreements and other things. I have had no conversation with anyone about the permanent position of being head coach here at Rutgers University.”
AB’s Take: Hobbs has always been one to play his cards close to his chest, so no one should have expected any concrete information given regarding candidates. There should be little doubt that Hobbs has a short list he has been developing over time and whether names of legitimate candidates leak out remain to be seen. However, the lack of leaks regarding important information during Hobbs tenure at Rutgers has been impressive and I don’t really expect that to change during this process.
In regard to who will be involved in the search process, Hobbs was direct in saying, “No, we’re not going to have a search committee. Obviously this is a very important decision for myself, for Rutgers University, for our fans, as we go forward. I’m always open to opinions and information from football coaches, and I always seek out a lot of advice for football coaches. Obviously I’ll continue to consult with Greg Brown, our chairman of our athletic subcommittee, and obviously bring a recommendation to Dr. Barchi at the appropriate time when we are ready to go.”
Although he dismissed the idea of a formal search committee, Hobbs did indicate hiring a search firm was likely, stating “Probably will employ a search firm. We’ll probably start having some conversations with some of those organizations late this week, next week, before we make a decision. But they can be invaluable in the process. They act as a funnel for information. Obviously if football coaches want to reach out, either themselves or through intermediaries, I would rather not be handling that part of the process, because we want to use all of our efforts and our time to make a considered decision to bring the very best coach here to Rutgers University.” This makes sense.
When asked about whether Hobbs would take input from any former Rutgers football players during the search, he was very open to it. He said, “I love getting counsel from -- particularly our letter winners. I’m going to singling out two, Todd Frazier and Bobby Brownlie were tremendously helpful in the search that led to Steve Owens, and we are all excited about the Steve Owens tenure beginning. Absolutely I will reach out and talk to and consult with anyone who I think can bring an informed opinion to this search process.”
AB’s Take: Hobbs is a smart guy and handled this line of questioning carefully. That last line about “anyone who I think can bring an informed opinion to this search process” was a master class in being politically correct. My opinion is that he will likely consult most with Board of Governor members Greg Brown and Amy Towers, as both will surely want to be heavily involved in the process. Brown is also chairman of the athletic subcommittee, has donated millions to the program along with his wife Anna, most recently being the $4 million locker room renovation. Amy Towers and her husband Jeff have been big donors for years and funded the development of the Marco Battaglia practice fields. So while there is no formal search committee, those are probably the names of who will be working with Hobbs on this process the closest, aside from perhaps one or two others as well.
Obviously there are financial concerns which I addressed in more detail in this article here. Hobbs was asked about his plan to have the money to make the right hire by stating “We are in a very fortunate position to be part of Big Ten, and obviously that means a very different financial position as we go forward. We also have a great opportunity in terms of season ticket sales. The excitement of a new coach that comes in; every 10,000 season tickets that we sell is another $4.5 million dollars. That’s not insignificant. So I believe we will have the resources going forward and I know I have the full support of Dr. Barchi and our board athletic committee chairman, Greg Brown, to go out and hire the very best.” When pressed if Hobbs has been given a budget, he responded “I have not been told anything other than go out and get the very best coach for Rutgers University.”
AB’s Take: This is encouraging and obviously Hobbs is selling future revenue as a key to having enough money to hire the right coach to move Rutgers forward. He has seen first hand what happens when you pay near the bottom of the market and I actually have confidence that Hobbs will be pushing to spend as much as possible in order to get as qualified a coach as possible. With just roughly 16,000 season tickets sold for this season, hiring a coach who can re-energize the program and fan base certainly offers the opportunity to grow revenue significantly.
Nunzio Campanile as Interim Head Coach
Hobbs was asked about the decision to appoint Nunzio Campanile as interim head coach and he explained that “any number of them, really, could have served in the interim role here, but I felt that Coach Campanile brings a let of leadership skills and an offensive mind that he will bring to this effort which will give us an opportunity to have success going forward and that’s what I want.”
In delving further into the decision to give Nunzio the team for the final 8 games of the 2019 season, Hobbs stated “Nunzio has a skill-set. He brings an energy and enthusiasm to everything that he does. He did it at the high school level. I’m a big believer that a lot of those skills translate very, very well and we’ve seen that happen around this country where we have football coaches that have been relatively new to the college coaching ranks and they have had great success.”
Continuing, he did harp on his expertise as a coach, saying “he’s an innovative offensive mind, but he’s going to have great help in that room. There’s a great group of coaches in that room and so this is not going to be anything that’s going to be, you know, dictated on high. This is going to be very much a collaboration in that room, and I think that’s one of his great skills. He’s going to bring some innovation. I think we’re going to see some fun things on offense here because we’ve got to raise -- we have to score points. I mean, you can’t win football games if you don’t score points. So I have great confidence in him, and I know he’ll do a great job. And you look at what he’s done with quarterbacks in the past, right. He’s the guy who brought Mike Teel along, Gary Nova. He has a reputation for working very well with quarterbacks and we want to get more production out of that position here. So I think he’s very much up to the task, and he has 100 percent of my confidence.”
When pressed at the end of his presser whether Nunzio could be a candidate for the permanent job, Hobbs reiterated “anyone who can help Rutgers University become competitive and compete for conference championships is a candidate for this position.”
AB’s Take: Appointing Nunzio as interim head coach makes this team instantly more interesting than before. While you can’t expect him to reinvent the wheel offensively with one week to prepare, Nunzio touched on simplifying things in his presser and putting the players in a position to succeed. It’s likely he has had his own ideas on how to better prepare this team for game day and now he has the chance. He also helps stabilize recruiting as best as possible due to the current circumstances. He is well liked in New Jersey by many high school coaches and his name brings credibility throughout the state.
What would really be interesting is if Rutgers somehow beats Maryland and perhaps another couple during this perceived winnable stretch of five straight games ahead. With the search certain to take weeks now, Nunzio has the platform to state his case for the job by significantly improving the product on the field in these last 8 games of the season.
While hiring a head coach who has only been a position coach at the FBS level previously is at face value unlikely and incredibly risky, this is not a typical situation. Campanile was given a two year extension before this season for a reason, because Hobbs and others value him greatly. Don’t get me wrong, it still seems unlikely Nunzio would be hired as the head coach, but he certainly is someone Hobbs wants to stay beyond this season and could serve as a backup plan of sorts if his top candidates don’t work out. And if he does impress everyone with a few wins the rest of the way, well, stranger things have happened. It’s an element that makes following Rutgers football more intriguing the rest of this season for sure.
Watch Pat Hobbs address the media here: