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Rutgers football has one built in advantage despite transitional spring in limbo

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With the Big Ten cancelling team activities until mid-April and the University suspending events through May, it’s a difficult start for the program’s new staff

Aaron Breitman

During such turbulent times with the COVID-19 global pandemic, last week the Big Ten announced a cancellation of all team activities, in addition to the cancellation of all winter and spring sport seasons.

“The Big Ten Conference announced today that all organized team activities have been suspended until April 6, 2020, and will be re-evaluated at that time.”

“The Big Ten has previously announced that in addition to canceling the Men’s Basketball Tournament it will be canceling all conference and non-conference competitions through the end of the academic year, including spring sports that compete beyond the academic year, and participation in all NCAA tournaments and competitions. The Conference also has announced a moratorium on all on- and off-campus recruiting activities for the foreseeable future.”

“The Big Ten Conference will use this time to work with the appropriate medical experts and institutional leadership to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The main priority of the Big Ten Conference continues to be the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, faculty, fans and media as we continue to monitor all developing and relevant information on the COVID-19 virus.”

Aside from the abrupt ending of those seasons already in progress, this decision impacted the Spring practice schedule for Rutgers football. While no official start date was announced for Spring practice, it traditionally begins in March. The annual Scarlet-White Spring game was scheduled for April 25, but on Tuesday, President Barchi announced a suspension on all Rutgers University events through May.

Obviously, these decisions aren’t surprising due to the current health crisis we are experiencing. Any decisions to delay or postpone sports related activities right now are appropriate. While it’s possible some type of offseason practice schedule will be reworked in some way at some point, it’s too early to know.

This is obviously an issue for every college football program, but particularly those with entirely new coaching staffs. Spring practice is a time to implement new systems and kick off the program’s philosophical changes. While every college football program utilizes this time to prepare for the upcoming season in the fall, for teams that haven’t had much success on the field and have many new players joining the roster under a new coaching staff, this will only make rebuilding jobs even more difficult.

The difference at Rutgers is that even though it is a new coaching staff, they have a lot of familiarity with each other and experience working together. Greg Schiano never could have prepared for his first spring back on the banks under these current conditions, but his current staff have been through plenty together previously. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith, offensive line coach Andrew Aurich, linebackers coach Bob Fraser and Director of Sports Performance Jay Butler all previously worked for Schiano, including at Rutgers with the exception of Aurich.

Even those that haven’t directly worked under Schiano have familiarity with him or the program. Defensive line head coach Jim Panagos coached at Rutgers the first four seasons after Schiano left and was in the Big Ten at his last stop with Minnesota. Wide receivers coach Tiquan Underwood played at RU under Schiano. Tight Ends coach Nunzio Campanile has been with the program the past two seasons, was interim head coach last season and has known Schiano for years. Special Teams Coordinator Adam Scheier crossed paths with Schiano at Ohio State for one season.

While offensive coordinator Sean Gleason, secondary coach Fran Brown, and running backs coach Augie Hoffman haven’t ever worked with or for Schiano previously, all were brought in based on established relationships with him or due to strong mutual connections with other coaches. It’s been said many times that Schiano prepared arduously before returning officially as head coach of Rutgers and he assembled arguably the best coaching staff the program has ever had. However, it’s more than the group’s pedigree that’s important now.

This isn’t a staff thrown together or of inexperience within the game. Many of them have already worked together or knew each other previously. This also includes support staff, many of whom have worked for Schiano and Rutgers before, including longtime administrator Kevin MacConnell who is back as his chief of staff. While the current situation they find themselves in is certainly very difficult, Schiano has once again shown his value by having a ready made staff that understand how he wants the program run and can operate more efficiently during an abbreviated preparation period.

Obviously, this will still be tough for Gleeson and his new offensive installation. Adaptability will be key with current personnel, which will make Campanile an asset.

Strange times are upon us and there is no known end in sight. The 2020 football season isn’t in jeopardy yet, but it’s far to early to know if an extended summer practice session will be created or if fall camp will be extended. There isn’t a lot of certainty anywhere right now. The one difference for Rutgers football fans is knowing under Greg Schiano, he will most certainly develop as an effective a plan as possible and has the necessary staff to execute it, whatever the situation ultimately becomes.