Okay, FINE. Let me try to defend Rutgers for a second
Rutgers didn't get Greg Schiano, and the internet is dunking on them. But what if, and stay with me here...they accidentally made the right move?
Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points. Two quick notes to share before today’s big story:
1) It was wonderful to head out to Bloomington over the weekend to see pals at Banner Society, Crimson Quarry, and Homefield Apparel. I had a great time, and am especially thankful for the nice words a few of you guys had for this newsletter. I am pleased to report that although it was touch and go for a minute there, I still have all my fingers and toes. Thanks for letting me hang out with y’all.
2) I have a story coming soon for SBNation.com on the economic potential of elite women athletes in a liberalized NIL marketplace, and what that may mean for women’s sports, generally. If you’re into that, stay tuned!
Anyway, I want to talk about Ohio State’s new presidential search, or this wild climate protest during the Harvard-Yale game, but I also wanted to write about Rutgers, and one thing led to another and welp, here’s 2,500 words on Rutgers. We’ll get to the other stuff later this week, I promise.
Rutgers didn’t get Greg Schiano
On paper, former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano seemed like the obvious candidate to replace Chris Ash as the head coach of the Scarlet Knights. A lot of Rutgers fans really wanted him. He was the only guy to ever really experience success with the program in the modern era. He didn’t have a job, and could potentially have started soon enough to even salvage a pretty moribund 2020 recruiting class. He even seemed like he wanted the job! All that was needed for him and the school to iron out a few details.
Then those details begat more details. And more detailed. And now, the two sides are moving on. Yahoo!, I believe, had the news first.
I saw a lot of people taking shots at Rutgers for messing this up. Local columnist Steve Politi went straight for the flamethrowers with his column, and I think plenty of fans and columnists agree with him here. Via NJ.com:
For decades now, the tweed-jacket detractors at Rutgers have demanded that their university give up on big-time athletics. Go back to playing Lafayette and Lehigh, they’d rail after every blowout. Stop wasting money on a losing football program that is clearly out of its league. Just give up already.
Turns out, all these years later, they were right. Rutgers doesn’t belong in the Big Ten. It doesn’t have the stomach for big-time athletics. It is a small-thinking, decrepit corner grocery store run by incompetent middle managers trying to compete in a world with Walmart and Target, doomed to fail before it even opens its doors to customers
I admit, I’ve been pretty critical of Rutgers on the internet. I still strongly disagree with the Big Ten’s decision to admit them to the league, and I think the athletic department has made an impossible task much harder, thanks to a series of boneheaded decisions. This is an easy school to make fun of, and it wouldn’t be hard for me to tee up another 700 words here of I REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT RUTGER IS AT IT AGAIN.
But, and stay with me here…what if Rutgers actually made the right call to not hire Greg Schiano? What is both sides going their separate ways was for the best?
Why, exactly, did this deal fall apart?
I’m going to admit up front here that I don’t know exactly why conclusively. I think stories about coaching searches can be very tricky, since anybody actually talking during this process (the coach, the agent, the athletic director) is going to have an agenda they want advanced via the press, and we might not get the whole story for years.
Multiple reports indicate this wasn’t about head coaching salaries. ESPN says the two sides agreed on an eight year, $32 million deal. Stadium said that $25.2 of that was fully guaranteed, which is in the neighborhood of what I had heard as well. That’d be a big step up from what Rutgers was paying Chris Ash (~$2.3 million, per USA TODAY) but compared to the rest of the Big Ten, that’d not crazy money. It’s a pretty long contract, but $4 million is about Lovie Smith money. It’d still be in the bottom half of the league.
During that meeting, Schiano detailed a list of potential expenditures that he felt would be the minimum for the school to become competitive in the Big Ten East. This included staff salaries, support staff salaries and facilities upgrades — areas where Rutgers is lagging far behind its Big Ten peers.
Although they went deep into discussions this week, Schiano wasn’t going to accept job parameters that he felt wouldn’t give him a realistic chance to win in the conference. The sides couldn’t come to an agreement over multiple facets of the negotiation. While Rutgers was willing to increase support significantly from its current levels, it wasn’t to the threshold that Schiano saw as necessary.
Let’s ignore the “realistic chance to win the conference” bit there for a second, because there is probably no amount of money that would satisfy that requirement. But the general gist, from this story, from the ESPN report, from the Stadium dispatch, and even the NJ.com story, was that the two sides could not agree on facility improvements, assistant coach salaries, and support personnel.
NJ.com has a list of the more specific demands. Some of these are big asks, especially the length of the deal and the private jet rules, but they’re not CRAZY big asks, especially given where Rutgers is right now.
Not mentioned in any of the immediate reports was a detail I remembered reading earlier in this search process. This was from FootballScoop:
Sources told FootballScoop that Schiano, sensing the leverage he has over the school, continues to press his demands from the university. In addition to an increased salary pool for assistants, improvements to the facilities, and possibly a football-only facility with an indoor practice space, Schiano has asked for total control over the football program, largely free from the oversight of AD Pat Hobbs. Hobbs has been the source of multiple controversies on campus and has faced call from New Jersey lawmakers for his resignation.
I believe other reporters pushed back on this particular claim, but from Politi’s editorial, and just reading between the lines of this search, I feel comfortable assuming that Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs was not as excited about the prospect of bringing Schiano back….or at least, he did not share the level of excitement that say, boosters, or outside parties, had over the prospect.
Even under the best circumstances, whoever gets this gig is probably going to fail. If they’re not 100% on the same page as the AD, nobody has any shot of winning at Rutgers
I’m not saying this to be mean. Rutgers is just an exceptionally hard job, probably the hardest job in the Power Five. No matter how much money they spend, Rutgers will still be at a resource disadvantage against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, three teams they have to play every year. Michigan State will have better players and better stuff than Rutgers too, and the Scarlet Knights will probably have to face either Wisconsin or Nebraska each season too. Before getting off the bus, you’re looking at four automatic losses at least.
Add that in to a complicated university governance system, an athletic budget that is drowning in red ink and doesn’t have the donor support of other Big Ten schools, and you have a very tough gig. The odds of success for the next coach simply aren’t very good, and the school could make a great hire…and that person could miss a bowl over the next five years if he’s just unlucky. The margins here are very tiny.
So I intellectually understand a reluctance to potentially not only spend a ton of money on a coaching staff, but even more money on expensive facilities, and give up some control, either politically, structurally, or otherwise.
Consider this, from App.com:
Athletics is a loss leader, plain and simple. And one of the nation’s most heavily subsidized athletic programs over the years is about to throw another $100 million-plus log on this cash-fueled fire, with that carrot of a full share of Big Ten revenues still dangling off in the distance.
The question the school’s decision makers have to ask is what value do they put on the benefits derived from football, in terms of energizing alumni, engaging donors, driving revenues, strengthening the brand and increasing applications from potential students.
None of it is happening right now, and failure is not an option if the plan that’s reportedly about to be set in motion goes through. Facilities that rival the finest anywhere in the country and a team that’s trapped in the bottom half of the conference will make for some terrible optics locally.
Rutgers does not enjoy the statewide support, whether culturally, financially, politically, or what have you, as other Big Ten schools. It also doesn’t have as much money as other Big Ten schools, and won’t for a while…if ever. If you’re going to spend a ton of money on a coach and his requests, you better be in love with the guy. It sounds like the decision makers here weren’t.
It’s probably worth noting that a lot of university administrators across the country are worried that a recession is coming. Building improvements at Rutgers are not cheap to build, and I can see an argument that building now, when the school doesn’t have the Big Ten TV money yet, and isn’t really selling tickets, might be too risky. What happens if you spend all this money, it’s year four of the Schiano era, the team still stinks, and now you’re even more in debt?
I know the saying. Scared money don’t make money. And selling tickets is going to remain hard, now that Rutgers is going to hire somebody that was clearly not the school’s first (or even second) choice. I’m just saying that a huge investment beyond a $32 million, eight-year deal, carries some risk, and Rutgers may not be best equipped to handle that risk at the moment.
After all, here’s what a source told McMurphy at Stadium. I don’t think you need to be Encyclopedia Brown to guess who that source might be.
You can’t blame Rutgers for not allocating more money or the Board of Governors for being concerned about his unprecedented request and the financial impact of the contract,” a source said. “And you can’t blame Schiano for not wanting to go back to a job he’s already done. Been there, done that. No one wants a New England Patriots situation.”
Also….is Greg Schiano REALLY the guy you want to risk all of this on?
That’s the other question I keep coming back to. If Rutgers had a chance to hire a real slam dunk candidate, maybe this is a different conversation. But I don’t think that’s Greg Schiano.
For one, Schiano hasn’t been a college head coach since the 2011 season. He was a disaster in the NFL, not just on the field, but off the field. I can say this as a guy who follows the program very closely: Schiano as Ohio State defensive coordinator was decidedly a mixed bag. I don’t think it’s an accident that the defense is playing much, much better without him on staff this season.
And Schiano’s accomplishments at Rutgers during the previous decade, while impressive, were at a pre-Big Ten Rutgers. At the peak of his powers, Rutgers was recruiting in the upper half of the Big East. But even then, they never managed to win an outright division title. And the job is much, much, much harder now.
Could it have worked? Maybe! Schiano has near unmatched credibility with New Jersey high school coaches. He’d probably recruit better than any other possible candidate. He can be a challenging personality, but he isn’t a bad coach.
Was this a can’t miss, slam dunk fit though? No. I don’t think so.
So what now?
Schiano and former Cincinnati and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones were options 1 and 2, and they’re both off the board, so everything resets a bit. But there have been other names floated, like Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead, Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton (who for my money, has done the best rebuilding job in the country), or Buffalo’s Lance Leipold, among other assistant coach possibilities.
Most of those guys are going to be cheaper. They may be a better fit with Hobbs, or the rest of the Rutgers administration. And in my opinion, at least a few of them have better chances getting Rutgers back to a bowl game in the near-ish future than Schiano.
To be fair, Rutgers did not make this process easy on themselves. Hobbs was already a bit of a hobbled AD, given his recent scandals, and the school siding with an embattled AD over boosters and fans could absolutely blow up in their face. The school is going to need fan and booster support in a major way for whoever they hire, and Sunday’s news is going to make that much harder.
But I do think there’s a chance that whoever they hire is going to work out better than Schiano did. And maybe that allows the program to make the next infrastructure investments on a timetable that is more sustainable for the entire athletic department, not just football.
So maybe this ends up as another case of Rutgers Gonna Rutgers. But I think it is at least possible that the school ended up doing the right thing, using the worst possible optics.
That’s probably pretty Rutgers too.
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