RU-tude is back! At least, here in Steveo’s Salvos. The reality is that it’s never gone away. We’ve lain off the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for the last few years because we had a temporary, though disheartening, tie to the team, but that tie is now undone. So the gloves are off once again. We’ll take it from here.
The inept coaching, the over-hyped and out of control (even more so under Flood) players, the false confidence, the unwarranted bravado, the unsupported self-esteem, the absence of any sense of humility when it’s been called that leads up to the prevailing attitude that every opponent is expected to just roll over and die because for some unknown reason other than – “it’s Rutgers” . All of the RU-tude is still there, but Steveo’s Salvos is back on the case. We let it slide these past few years, begrudgingly.
So Rutgers had to make drastic changes in the wake of the depths that former HC Kyle Flood and clueless Athletic Director Julie Hermann sunk the program to. The solutions? Let the university President Robert Barchi, with no interest or concern for the school’s athletic programs, hire a new AD with no background running a college football program. And then let an AD with two years’ experience running an athletic department with no football program hire a new head coach with no previous head coaching experience at any level. This all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? OK, then let these two rookies lead this hurting football program into one of the biggest, most experienced, most historical conferences playing football since 1953 – the Big Ten. Oh sure, the RU program needed an overhaul, but are these the people who can get them to where they want to be eventually, if not in a hurry? New HC Chris Ash comes in with a fine pedigree spending the last two years as defensive coordinator at Ohio State under HC Urban Meyer whose teams went 26-2 over those two seasons including a national championship. His former, most recent program definitely has the credentials, but Ash still hasn’t had the reins in his hands to run any football program. This one is especially hungry with a desperate fan base tired of losing. It also has the world’s biggest, most critical, metropolitan media anticipating things to turn around in a “New York minute.” Ash is from Ottumwa, Iowa for crying out loud. This isn’t even Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Drake University in 1996, so we know his playing experience in college was top notch having been coached there by former Juniata (The Alma Mater) HC Rob Ash (no relation). So let’s let new AD Patrick Hobbs who was the AD at Seton Hall University from 2009-2011 show him the ropes and have his back of what it’s going to take to get a football program turned around from the administrative point of view. What the heck. Hobb’s got the political backing of former Republican Presidential nominee Chris Christie. Now there’s a real knowledgeable guy who knows what it takes to run a football program. People wouldn’t support Christie because of his hug of Democratic President Barack Obama to gain financial support in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That bolstered neither his reputation nor the financial support of his constituents’ needs for necessary government funding to rebuild homes and businesses. I thought Christie’s little exhibition on national television hugging Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones while jiggling up and down in the owner’s box was even more reprehensible than the Obama hug. It wasn’t about the dreaded Cowboys as far as I was concerned, but what a suck-up! That must have gotten him some financial support, but not enough evidently. All that attested for Christie’s skills at fundraising, knowledge of football, and his inability to look and act like a leader. Now he’s recommending a political ally to run the Rutgers’ athletic department. Great!
RU Head Coach Chris Ash is probably a good guy and a good football coach, but at RU, he’d better have his guard up. He’s got a few packs of wolves to deal with. He’s got no Jersey connections coming in. Building a rapport with the high school coaches in this state will take some time. Do you think people in Missouri like to live by their state motto, “Show me”? In Jersey, we don’t say it, we think it. Then you’ve got sharks like Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, and supposedly Penn State recruiting extraordinaire James Franklin, at least that’s his rep, among the top recruiters cruising New Jersey. You’ve also got a dangerous guy who’s actually building something good down at Temple with a strong Jersey connection in HC Matt Rhule, a former PSU linebacker who’s been able to pluck the best kids from the programs the other out-of-staters aren’t paying attention to. We like the Jersey talent we’ve seen him garner for the Owls (he can coach, too). The first few years of recruiting are going to yield slim pickings for Chris Ash. His coaching capabilities are going to have to be his strength to get the most out of the players on his roster the next few years. Having witnessed the RU-tude over 30 years, the players will have no problem exuding confidence, but will they have the talent? Can his new, basically young coaching staff make up for the talent gaps that they’re going to have?
It’s funny, new RB coach Zak Kuhr, a 2013 gradaute of Florida with a few years of coaching experience as an assistant, quickly made the analogy after his hire that this is the Garden State and that the RU staff will need to build a fence around it to keep the circling predators out. Former AD Robert Mulcahy framed the same message back in 2001. It had a short-term effect back then, will it work now? Now I don’t put a lot of energy into covering the slimy and corrupt world of college football recruiting and the conjectures the ”experts” make regarding what 18-year olds will make sudden impacts and who won’t, but coaches do need to get the best players possible to build the core for their teams and it has to make sense for State U. (which Rutgers is to New Jersey) to make its home turf its most fertile recruiting ground. Despite what the “experts” say, there is talent in New Jersey, but the depth that was once prevalent here is not what it used to be. Demographics have cut down a lot on the multitude of high school talent that was here before the population aged and big companies with good jobs left less opportunity to raise a family in a state with high taxes and a high cost of living. Consolidation of the best kids all going the top 15 or so parochial schools around the state has lowered the competitive levels that used to thrive here. High schools in NJ today generally have half the populations they had here in the ’80s, early 90’s, and before that. New Jersey was always a fertile recruiting ground for major schools around the country because Rutgers was aligned with playing against the “Ivy League” schools. The state used to ”export” a lot more football talent than it does now. Schools from outside the state come in and recruit the easily found “cream” horded by those awarding scholarships to the local home-grown talent identified at early ages. There’s not as much left here after the “cream” has been skimmed off the top. Former Rutgers HC Greg Schiano built a nice recruiting base in Florida as do most schools today. Ash will probably have to do the same. However, it’s hard to envision that his staff of basically former Ohio State and Iowa State (Iowa State!?) assistants are going to be able to implore the vison of playing football for the University of the Garden State.
I feel bad for Ash who’s looking to build on a pretty good career path he’s developed so far. Is this the right step up to the top for him? Not only is 1) the support above him questionable to help him make improvements to this decimated football program, 2) his relationship with the local high school coaches a work in progress, and 3) the recruiting ground between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers infested with sharks, but there’s also the media, led by The Newark Star Ledger who has three beat writers who analyze every move made every day who will be hospitable to say the least until there’s a little blood, and then let the feeding frenzy begin! Oh, they are patient right now before spring practice starts. They see all the hard work being done and put the positive spin appreciating everything. Then bang –first loss (opener at Washington), maybe the second (figuring they can’t lose to Howard, it’ll be New Mexico), everything comes crumbling down. The second-guessing begins and it gets worse from there. It’s not like when Schiano (ironically Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator) coached at the Birthplace of College Football. AD Mulcahy had his back and RU wasn’t playing in the Big Ten, it was in the basketball-first Big East. RU kept him after four years with a 17-24 record including losses to FCS schools New Hampshire and Villanova before going into a run of second their bowl games that didn’t exist when he originally started coaching. With the financial incentives in place from Big Ten membership to get RU football and athletics in general out of the red and into the black, how much time will Rutgers give Ash to rebuild? A 17-24 record after four years likely doesn’t get any bowl bids. With escalating ticket prices and reduced parking convenience (another story), these are not going to enhance the locals’ interests when they have football alternatives like the Jets, Giants, and Eagles around these parts. I can see the Star Ledger’s headline after he’s gone: “Arising from the Ash”. Despite the warm welcome extended by the pundits, they will lead the charge come the first loss after the Howard game on September 10. They will start to second-guess everything and focus on reasons why the team has shown no or little improvement under a coach with no previous head coaching experience and under an AD with no football connections. Opposing teams will do everything they can muster on the field to eliminate Rutgers as an option to the next recruiting class by showing that the grass is greener outside the Garden State. This will continue to be ugly. It’s been this way for 35 years since RU stopped playing Princeton and Columbia to go “big time”. Well now they may have bitten off more than they can chew playing in the Big Ten without some experienced leadership to get them closer to the top. The school tuition keeps going up to support athletics for all the other families who pay as much for in-state tuition now as they can for out of state at many other institutions. It’s a mess in New Brunswick.
I tried to convince my cousin and Rutgers Newark alum Frank Scarpa to forget about Rutgers season tickets and go halves with me on a five-game Navy Season package that guarantees us Army-Navy game tickets. I told him he’ll be able to get all the Rutgers tickets he’ll need for every game he’ll want to go to by buying on-line after debacles against Washington and Iowa. “If Rutgers can get the best players in New Jersey to stay…” It’s in my book, page 14. I’ve heard that since I attended the Princeton-Rutgers game in 1980. Even if they did keep the best at home, there are a lot of other obstacles preventing this program to get to the level its fans and alum crave. I mean, this is where it all started, so they deserve some satisfaction after 147 years. But just watch that same old RU-tude continue to loom over the Birthplace of College Football as they struggle to attain the unreachable goal they look to achieve under their new , inexperienced leadership.