As Tom Petty wails, “The waiting is the hardest part”. For Rutgers football, the wait is finally over. After being hired ten and a half months ago, Greg Schiano’s second tenure as head coach kicks off this Saturday at Michigan State at noon ET on BTN.
His return united the Rutgers fan base in a way I’ve never seen before and it was a beautiful thing.
After enduring the previous five seasons under former coaches Kyle Flood and Chris Ash which produced a dismal 13-47 record, including just 3-21 the past two years, as well as multiple scandals, player arrests, and offensive futility, hope was reborn with Schiano coming home.
While there should be confidence that the program’s basement level should be raised considerably in Schiano’s second tenure, the biggest question is how high can the ceiling be? While restoring respectability is the first goal, Schiano’s answer to whether he thought the potential for greater success existed in his second go around at Rutgers was encouraging.
“I do feel that the ceiling is higher (than previous tenure).” He continued, “I feel good about where we are with the structure of our program. We’ve had interrupted time to get it implemented. That’s the only thing that gives me pause. Now we’ve had a stretch and we’ll just continue that.”
What made Schiano successful over a decade ago when he made Rutgers into a perennial winner and bowl team was the culture that he built. Sadly, it faded away as the years went by after his departure. The program became less connected to its most prolonged winning period. They were no longer one of the strongest football teams academically. Tradition and history were not given the respect it deserved. An emphasis on keeping New Jersey kids home waned.
Fans were left dismayed. Hope was dead, or at the very least, on life support.
With Schiano back, it’s no surprise the key to restoring pride within the program and the fan base is rebuilding a strong culture. Regardless of wins and losses this season, laying that foundation is the real key to long term success.
“When you take over a program, it’s about installing your culture. Learning to live the culture. Anybody can get up in front of a room and give a lecture about this is our culture. Being able to hold each other accountable to that culture over time and that culture is everything,” Schiano said. He continued, “The way we live our life, the collective way we live as a team and a program. It doesn’t mean you take away individuality. If you look at our guys all look different, from different areas, sound different. I think there has to be commonality in your program that’s your culture and sets you apart from another program.”
It took Schiano four seasons until Rutgers began a decade long run that was the most prolific in program history. While he and the fans would love to replicate the rebuilding process and get back to that point quicker than before, it’s going to take time. The program that Schiano inherited was in much worse shape than he left it when he departed for the NFL in 2012. Patience is key in this second rebuild, both for Schiano and the fans.
“Time you try to accelerate it as a coach as much as you can,” said Schiano. “Sometimes just living through it is what allows (the culture) to become stronger and stronger. We have a saying around here “Don’t touch the stove, it’s hot.” I can tell a guy that over and over again, but sometimes they have to touch the stove to really believe that it is hot. That takes time.”
One thing Schiano proved in his first tenure is that there are no shortcuts and that he takes a complete approach to building success.
“We are developing our program in every area. Whether it be strength and conditioning, football, academics. It doesn’t matter, all of those areas are being developed and culturally we like to think that we are vertically aligned and all doing it in the same direction,” he said.
Schiano continued, “That’s what I feel best about. We have a bunch of young men who have worked incredibly hard so that’s good. When you take over a program, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the work I think is an issue. I would tell you that wasn’t an issue here. The guys have worked very hard. Now it’s time to go put it out there against somebody else and see where we stand.”
For fans, Schiano’s return meant a reconnection to past glory days and hope for a brighter future. It’s been a long journey and regardless of what happens in this very strange 2020 season due to the global pandemic, remember to enjoy the little things.
As for what to expect from Rutgers on the field this fall? Even Schiano admitted he wasn’t so sure.
“I have an idea, but until you go play you really don’t know,” Schiano said. “A lot of coaches will say they know, I wish they knew the secret. I heard once Bear Bryant was asked about what he thought (of his team). He said, “I stopped trying to figure that out a long time ago.” If Bear couldn’t figure it out, probably Greg can’t figure it out. We are all going to find out.”
It’s finally time for the sequel to begin. For Rutgers fans, it’s time to enjoy football once again.
(Editor’s Note: Rutgers fan Sean McGrath put together this hype video and it’s worth your time. Watch it!)