NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Ground Hog Day Again at Rutgers

Once again Rutgers is in the rebuilding mode with its football program. It is not a new story.

Rutgers.

Where do we start with a program that is this year a focal point of college football's 150th birthday party as the winner of the first college football game every played (6-4 over Princeton in 1869), but has seldom been cast in a favorable light since then?

Rutgers made some headlines on Saturday afternoon following a 52-0 loss to Michigan, the Scarlet Knights 10th shutout since joining the Big Ten in 2014.

They made more headlines on Sunday afternoon when RU Director of Athletics Patrick Hobbs announced that he had fired football coach Chris Ash four games into his fourth season and 40 games into a career at RU which had produced an 8-32 record and a winless streak in Big Ten football which had crept into its third season.

Ash's demise was not a surprise.

The timing was, since such terminations rarely happen without being attached to some off the field scandal.

It brought back memories of six years ago when USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin in September at the airport in Southern California following an embarrassing road loss at Arizona State.

The sad part of this for Rutgers fans is that we have seen this story played out time after time, year after year in various sports and with a variety of coaches, trying to till some of the most fertile recruiting soil in college athletics.

If you could put a fence around the state of New Jersey, which allowed Rutgers to have the top picks in football and basketball, Rutgers would probably be a consistent Top 25 program or even higher.

But then again, we are dealing with Rutgers.

The normal time line on firing Ash would have been a Halloween announcement--presumably after three or four more RU losses--a November search and a hiring in December, at which time Rutgers football would again be a labeled as a reconstruction project with a new boss.

The problem is that Rutgers never seems to hire the right guy, if there is indeed one.

The name you hear mentioned the most now is Greg Schiano, who coached at Rutgers from 2001-2011 and brought the Scarlet Knights into the Top 25 with a team that even had the Rose Bowl paying attention.

Schiano left in 2011 for the NFL and a job as coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs with a 67-66 record, which earned him a term as a miracle worker.

After leaving Ohio State at the end of last season (as Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator) he flirted with returning to the NFL as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator before announcing his retirement to spend more time with his family.

In a logical world, the timing of firing Ash would make sense if Schiano was ready to come back.

Would he? Could he? Should he?

But this,again, is Rutgers.

Nothing is simple or easily explainable.

This was a program which once had moderate success, but took a policy against playing in bowl games, including a snub of the Rose Bowl.

It is a program which produced coach in Terry Shea (1996-2000) who thought it would be a good idea to hold a spring game scrimmage against the RU alumni, who promptly went out and won a 7-6 decision led by a quarterback who was old enough to be the father of most of the Rutgers players.

It is a program with people so full of themselves that they would argue with reporters about their job titles, such as the time former Rutgers athletic director Fred Gruninger complained to a reporter that his title at Rutgers was Director of Athletics not Athletic Director.

Fine, said the reporter, who wrote, Fred Gruninger, D.O.A, (which is also used in ambulance reports as Dead on Arrival.)

For the most before and after Schiano, Rutgers football and men's basketball has been a D.O.A.

Scandals and ineptness have been the profiles in both sports. The men's basketball program has not been an NCAA tournament team since 1991.

As a Big Ten team, the Scarlet Knights have been road kill since their arrival, leading many critics to question "Why Rutgers'''.

With an annual payout per school which could top $50 million in a few years, it was a wise move for Rutgers, but even that has a Rutgers touch, since the school was so financially strapped and had massive athletic building projects scheduled, that is had to draw against future Big Ten revenues for the past few years.

The bottom line is that Rutgers is not expected to collect a full Big Ten share for several more years.

Sources around Rutgers contend that Hobbs, who had no experience in hiring of firing football coaches when he came to Rutgers from Seton Hall a few years ago, is interested in former Penn State assistant coach and current Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorehead, who has strong Northeast ties.

There are equally loud voices contending that Schiano is the only person that can make Rutgers close to respectable, but to do so would require some loosening of the power control by Hobbs to Schiano, who was very much in charge in his first stay with the Scarlet Knights.

How that issue is resolved will be the stuff of the rumor mill for the next several weeks.

Schiano might be wise to take his time since he can't fix Rutgers over night and there might be more and better opportunities developing in the next several weeks, perhaps even including Boston College, which might be a better fit for Schiano and not require a re-tracing of steps which seldom works the second time.

Then again, it's Rutgers.

For anyone, even remotely familiar with the Scarlet Knights history, that is all that is necessary as an explanation.

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