The first Friday of 2022 was a transformative one for Rutgers football. Exactly one week after a surprise appearance in the Gator Bowl in which the program performed admirably in what was an impossible situation, significant steps were made. Then on Saturday, another impactful roster move was made. The implications of those decisions will take hold next season and beyond.
One obvious takeaway with what occurred on Friday is that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is not wasting any time capitalizing off the program’s Gator Bowl appearance. While all the activity from last weekend was likely put into motion prior to the invitation to go bowling took place, securing all four acquisitions so quickly after the game helps move momentum forward with both perception and reality for the program.
One week after playing in the Gator Bowl, Schiano and Rutgers hired away a co-DC from a top half Big Ten team that had a top ten defense nationally. They brought back a rising star in the coaching world who should be expected to make a major impact with recruiting. And the program signed a power five transfer receiver with size, experience and big play capability, as well as an FCS All-American offensive lineman.
While reshaping the defensive staff, Rutgers also added two plug and play starters on offense. That’s a remarkable 24 hour period for a program that has the very difficult task of moving up the ladder in the Big Ten East next season.
It’s pretty simple, Schiano is dealing.
The reality of what the moves mean and what impact they will have is obviously what is most important.
Adding Harasymiak and Watson changes the dynamics within coaching staff significantly. They are replacing Robb Smith and Jim Panagos, who are 46 years old and 50 years old respectively. Harasymiak is 35 and Watson is 26. Both should help boost recruiting with their backgrounds. Both are from New Jersey, making it seven of nine assistants currently with the program from the Garden State. Smith was from Pennsylvania and Panagos from New York, so it’s not that they were foreign to this area, but adding two New Jersey natives is another piece of the storytelling narrative that fits better.
As for experience, Harasymiak has been a successful head coach and had a major impact on the Minnesota defense following Smith not working out there. Watson is not close to Panagos in regard to coaching experience, but his time at Bryant and Ole Miss since he was a graduate assistant at Rutgers under Ash has prepared him for his first assistant role.
With Harasymiak as defensive coordinator along with Fran Brown and Bob Fraser, Rutgers has plenty of experience, not to mention Schiano above all. Between those three defensive assistants, they have all served as co-defensive coordinators before and Fraser has been the DC at Rutgers previously. Watson will have plenty of experience to lean on, especially Fraser who has also coached the defensive line and played there in college.
The bigger question is whether the defensive scheme will change moving forward with Harasymiak now in the fold. Our own David Anderson explores the possibilities in detail here.
The most important takeaway is that Schiano’s adaptability and willingness to evolve philosophically is in motion and a major positive. The status quo wouldn’t be prudent for the big picture plan after two seasons of progress that also showed a steep climb upward was still needed. The promising young talent on defense makes this a perfect time for this unit to be innovative and make changes. Harasymiak seems in step with Schiano’s core principles, but together have the opportunity to push things forward to the point that Rutgers is a top half of the Big Ten defense in the near future.
As for adding a much needed playmaker and impact lineman on offense, Ryan and DiRenzo are quality pickups.
Ryan has the potential to be the best receiver on the roster next season. His 16.0 yard per catch average this past season ranks the highest of any Rutgers receiver with 20+ catches since Leonte Carroo in 2015. Ryan’s potential to make big plays in the passing game could fill a huge need next season. He’s has three years of power five experience and joins a long list of New Jersey players to return home to Rutgers.
I understand there is some question as to whether an FCS transfer, even if they are a two-time All-American in DiRenzo, can be successful in making a major step up to the Big Ten. One reason for optimism is that Oklahoma offered him a full scholarship in the last two weeks, along with about a dozen other power five programs. Obviously that doesn’t guarantee success, but it shows that one of the top programs in college football valued his potential at the highest level. If DiRenzo can fill a need along the offensive line, most likely at guard, it would be a huge boon for a position group that needs the most help of any.
In a critical offseason for Rutgers, one that was interrupted in an unprecedented way by getting the band back together to play the Gator Bowl on just eight days notice, Schiano is off to a great start. The positive PR from playing the game and the experience that many young players gained is being built upon with exciting moves within the coaching staff and offensive personnel.
With one assistant spot still open and more roster holes needing to be filled, the next month remains crucial in helping Rutgers take another step forward in the fall and beyond. Schiano moved quickly in getting the team ready to play in the Gator Bowl and now he’s moving just as fast in rebuilding the program this offseason. In both cases, it’s clear he has a plan. 2022 is a major transition season for Rutgers and Schiano isn’t being passive in how he is approaching it.