Greg Schiano marked his second return of coaching Rutgers football Wednesday morning when he was officially introduced as their head coach.
This came after a few weeks ago when Rutgers and him broke off talks about the head coaching position. Both came back to the bargaining table after grassroots movement brought them together. Rutgers fans and former Rutgers players such as Eric LeGrand, Mike Teel and others played a role in making this happen along with Star-Ledger sports columnist Steve Politi.
I never thought it was over between those two parties. Too much to gain and so much to lose for this not to happen. Rutgers needed him because he was the only right guy for this job and no one else, and he needed Rutgers because this was a chance to enhance his legacy after making them a competent football program in his first time there.
He comes home as a prodigal son. After leaving Rutgers with a 68-67 record in 2011, he took the challenge of coaching the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. He did okay in his first season at 7-9, but he flopped in his second season at 4-12 that had his players revolting about his college coaching style that got him fired.
It took at least five years for him to get Rutgers started when he first got the job in 2000, and then he saw the program plateaued in the 2006 season by going 10-2, including an upset against then-No. 1 Louisville at Piscataway dubbed as “Pandemonium in Piscataway” and their first bowl game appearance for the first time since 1978 when it was then the Garden State Bowl.
That’s how long it will take to build a winning program again in what is a tough conference in the Big Ten.
Make no mistake. This will not be an easy project for Schiano. He is coaching in a Big Ten division (Big Ten East) that features Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Not just winning games, but recruiting players out in the East Coast.
But if there is a right guy for this job, it’s him. He knows how to recruit players in New York and New Jersey. He is a Wyckoff native. He tasted success there, so that appeals players. He knows the high school coaches around New York and New Jersey. He experienced coaching in the Big Ten as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He understands what it takes to win at Rutgers. He has done this before in his first stint.
As good as Jeff Monken, Butch Jones, Steve Addazio and Joe Moorhead are at their respective job, it would have been a hard sell to hire either of them as Rutgers coach. They know nothing about the area, and this project would have been too much for either of them. They don’t have the contacts of high school coaches locally like Schiano. Recruits here would not be excited about playing for either of them. They would not attract donors the way Schiano would.
Forget the hot shot assistant coach. Rutgers tried that with Chris Ash, and it went so badly with him going 8-32 as head coach.
It was Schiano, and that’s it. He may not lead Rutgers to a national championship, Rose Bowl or even the Big Ten championship game, but that’s okay. We will settle for competence and a decent bowl game such as the New York Pinstripe Bowl or Quick Lane Bowl. We will have a parade for a rare upset against Michigan, Wisconsin or Ohio State. It’s much better than it was before.
Put it this way: Schiano offers a reason to watch Rutgers football. No other coach can say that.
Wednesday felt like a pep rally. No awkwardness took place between Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs, Rutgers president Robert Barchi and him. Optimism replaced pessimism. Genuine energy replaced false optimism for a change. Partnership replaced hostility. Revival replaced indifference.
Not only Rutgers needed him, but he needed Rutgers, too. He needed a challenge, and he’s going to get all he needs in this one.
Schiano did not have to offer gimmicks or ploys for promises. His record spoke for itself. His credibility brings substance.
He already had fans before he got to say hello again.
Again, who knows how it will work out when all is said and done?
One thing for sure. Rutgers football won’t be dull anymore.
For one day, Rutgers not only reintroduced Schiano, but it reintroduced itself to college football.