With it being reported that Robb Smith is leaving his post as defensive coordinator at Rutgers for the same position at Duke, head coach Greg Schiano’s next move will be fascinating to watch. Will he land a big name from the outside? Will he bring in someone he has ties with and worked with previously? Or will he make a move internally to rework the coaching staff? Let’s explore all three options.
The big name that every outlet is mentioning is Elijah Robinson, the defensive line coach for Texas A&M. It makes sense as he is from Camden, New Jersey and is currently ranked the no. 1 recruiting assistant for the 2022 class per 247 Sports. However, he is reportedly making $875,000 and even if Rutgers offered him more, it’s hard to think Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t match or top whatever offer is made to keep him. While he has eight years of experience as a defensive line coach, he’s never been a defensive coordinator. Even so, landing Robinson would be a tremendous hiring coup in stealing him away from the Aggies, which is why it seems unlikely.
The other dynamic to consider is Robinson worked at Temple and Baylor with current secondary coach Fran Brown. Bringing in Robinson as defensive coordinator and passing over Brown, who is ranked No. 34 in the 247 Sports recruiting rankings and brought in three 4-star prospects this class, could potentially create an issue. One way to make it work is to promote Brown to associate head coach and give him a raise. You could also potentially make them co-defensive coordinators, but that seems less practical.
Another popular name is Chris Partridge, the former Paramus Catholic coach who is currently co-defensive coordinator at Ole Miss. He is ranked No. 36 in this current recruiting cycle and obviously is a name that resonates in New Jersey. Partridge is reportedly making $625,000 for the Rebels, so he would appear to be attainable. He almost ended up at Rutgers when Kyle Flood was coach but ended up at Michigan instead. Partridge is intriguing but also might not be well received by certain high school coaches who he used to compete against while at PC.
Another potential candidate that Schiano doesn’t have ties to is Maryland’s Brian Williams. He is ranked No. 6 nationally as a recruiter this cycle and serves as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach for the Terps. It seems unlikely he would leave Maryland for Rutgers if he had to share the defensive coordinator duties with Brown. Schiano would probably need to navigate that potential issue which might not make Williams an ideal candidate but his credentials make him someone at least worth considering.
Of course, there are plenty of outside candidates that have no direct connection to Schiano that could emerge as candidates aside from the potential of Robinson, Partridge and Williams to do so. It’s a relationship business and someone that is recommended by a coach that Schiano trusts could certainly become a factor in this search.
What could also occur with this search is that Schiano does wait until mid-January to escalate the process in order to see which current NFL assistants become available or potentially express interest in the Rutgers job.
As for familiar names of coaches who have ties to Schiano, there can’t be a defensive coordinator search at Rutgers without Anthony Campanile being mentioned. However, after being courted for over a month when Schiano returned to the banks over two years ago, it seems unlikely to be as drawn out a process this time. If Campanile was interested in leaving the Miami Dolphins as linebackers coach to return to Rutgers as the DC, the actually process of that consideration would likely happen quickly. Bear in mind the NFL regular season doesn’t end for three more weeks and the Dolphins are in playoff contention, so whether Schiano wants to wait or not for someone that said no in the past remains to be seen.
In regard to Ohio State connections, there are three names that could potentially be considered. Larry Johnson is a longtime defensive line coach at both OSU and Penn State before that. He is a big time recruiter (No. 4 for 2021, No. 70 in 2022) and also making $750,000 as associate head coach for the Buckeyes. However, he has never had a chance to be defensive coordinator and worked under Schiano for three seasons in Columbus. Perhaps they reconnect. Others include Kerry Coombs, who started the season as DC for Ohio State but was demoted mid-season. He coached the cornerbacks under Schiano for two seasons and could be looking for a fresh start. Billy Davis coached linebackers for OSU under Schiano and is in that role for the Arizona Cardinals. He’s been a DC in the NFL for the Cardinals and 49ers, so depending on their relationship, Schiano could consider Davis as well.
Someone that has worked for Schiano and seems likely to be a target is Tem Lukabu. He is currently the defensive coordinator for Boston College under former Schiano assistant and current BC head coach Jeff Hafley. He was the outside linebackers coach at Rutgers in Schiano’s last two seasons of his first tenure and coached Khaseem Greene. He left with Schiano and served as a defensive assistant during his two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He went on to make stops with the 49ers and Mississippi State before being the DC and coaching linebackers at BC the past two seasons. His salary isn’t published but perhaps Schiano would try and lure Lukabu back to the banks with a big pay raise for a lateral move.
Bill Sheridan served as defensive coordinator for both seasons he was with Tampa Bay and left Boston College in the same role when Hafley took over the program. He’s been the defensive line coach at Air Force the past two seasons and his familiarity with Schiano’s defense could make him a natural fit.
Of course, Schiano could go the route that many Rutgers fans want him to in promoting Fran Brown to defensive coordinator. After being courted by Temple for their head coaching position and having such recruiting success for RU, the idea of locking Brown up at least in the mid-term makes sense. However, as mentioned above when discussing Robinson as a potential candidate, Schiano could still fill the position with someone else and make Brown the associate head coach along with a pay raise.
One name that hasn’t been brought up much initially is current linebackers coach Bob Fraser, who served as defensive coordinator or split the role for Schiano at Rutgers from 2009-2011, came back for Kyle Flood’s first two seasons after being at Tampa Bay as linebackers coach and then followed Schiano to Ohio State as a quality control coach. He has plenty of experience and could be an option to serve as co-DC along with Brown.
By doing this, Schiano would have flexibility to add an assistant coach in a different role. He could hire another secondary coach to split duties with Brown with one being responsible for cornerbacks and the other with the safeties. If Brown did become DC or co-DC, having all of the defensive backs under his supervision seems like a lot to ask of him. It could also make sense to have two assistant coaches for the secondary long term.
The positive entering this search is that with Brown, Fraser and defensive line coach Jim Panagos, there is a very solid base on the staff. Panagos is highly respected both as a coach and recruiter. How Schiano ultimately adds to his defensive coaching staff, the stability present will allow that person to hit the ground running as the coordinator.
At the end of the day, the Rutgers defense is going to be designed with the vision of its true architect, Greg Schiano. It wouldn’t be shocking if he decided to take on the DC role or made Brown the co-DC to split duties with him, essentially becoming the play caller on game days. Again, Schiano could then potentially hire another assistant coach to focus on another area or allocate funds to other personnel and support staff.
Whatever Schiano decides, it’s a crucial decision entering the third year of his second tenure at Rutgers. His coaching staff has been stable through two years and while other changes could occur this offseason, it seems unlikely there will be many moves made.
This is an opportunity to make an influential hire from a coaching and recruiting standpoint. Whether it’s an external candidate, someone with longstanding ties or a reshuffling internally, Schiano needs to make the right decision. That’s why you shouldn’t expect it to happen until at least mid-January as he will likely consider as many viable options as possible. As the search develops, we will stay on it with updates as they occur.