There isn’t another option. The next head coach of Rutgers had to be Greg Schiano.
Against the backdrop of another Rutgers football season that ended without a bowl appearance, the Scarlet Knights as a program are at a pivotal moment as a program. The place known as the birthplace of college football is on life support. If Rutgers doesn’t get this next hire right, then the birthplace might well become a graveyard.
This is a team that is now playing with the big boys, the blue bloods of college football. And while the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State can make a mistake with a head coaching hire because, well, they are storied programs, Rutgers has no such luxury.
If Rutgers didn’t get this hire right, they might well be irrelevant for the next decade. The stakes have never been higher. That’s why it must always be Schiano.
And why it couldn’t be anyone else.
The program, once considered a solid team in what was the old Big East, has regressed over the past five years. The decline coincided with Schiano’s move to become a head coach in the NFL in 2010.
What Schiano brings to athletic director Pat Hobbs is more than a bridge to the past when Rutgers was at its football peak and held national relevance. This is more than a nod to yesteryear, for what Schiano offers the football program is a pathway to why they are in this current mess.
For if it wasn’t for Schiano building the program from scratch and the team bursting onto the national scene in 2006, then Rutgers never becomes a doormat in the Big Ten.
At his heart, Schiano is a program builder, a man who brick by brick, painstakingly enacted a vision for Rutgers when no one believed in him. In his office, stuck in the corner, were renderings of a stadium expansion plan, a laughable idea during those early years when Rutgers languished as a doormat in a different conference.
That stadium expansion would become a reality during his last few years at the school.
The irony is that at Rutgers, the oldest college football team in the country, there was precious little tradition until Schiano arrived. He brought about the maxims such as “CHOP” and “F.A.M.I.L.Y.” – beloved phrases that fell by the wayside in recent years.
Whether those sayings return under a second Schiano regime remains unknown, but the meaning and impact behind the man can’t be mistaken.
For without Schiano, Rutgers isn’t in the Big Ten. It was his attention to detail mixed with a personality of force that shoved the Scarlet Knights into the national conversation. It was blunt force trauma for years from Schiano, pushing the sled up hill at a place where many thought it would be impossible to break through and win.
Now, it is Schiano and Schiano alone who can build-up once again what he envisioned in the first place. They got the hire right.
He checked off all the boxes. He’s proven at no place less than Rutgers that he is a program-builder. He has outside experience, from the NFL as a head coach as well as time as a coordinator and as an assistant at stops such as Ohio State and Miami.
At Rutgers he won, no easy task. Schiano's teams, beginning in 2006, made five bowl games over the next six years, winning each contest. In those bowl games, they defeated two Big XII teams and an ACC program (whose quarterback coincidentally was Russell Wilson).
Beyond that, he knows the territory and its pitfalls. Schiano has recruited New Jersey, convincing four-star recruits that he could turn them into NFL players against competition such as Temple. Now he can sell playing in the Big Ten.
And his message of becoming ‘A Rutgers Man’ won’t change this time around, turning boys into adults who graduate and go on to have success, something nearly every parent of a blue-chip recruit will eagerly listen to. Schiano took some pretty rough and tumble players in the past and matured them into men, an indelible mark left on the life of many a recruit deemed a risk by other programs but who thrived in the discipline of a father figure in Schiano.
It took awhile but athletic director Pat Hobbs did the right thing and gave the man the control and resources he needs. This hire lets him hit the recruiting trail now to target the remaining top recruits in a deep New Jersey class, those who are still uncommitted and those who could be flipped. This recruiting class can’t be a void that hurts the program for years to come.
Bring Schiano back. Rutgers did just that.
Then let him get down to some chopping.