Rutgers got it right when it bypassed hiring Greg Schiano a second time. Let’s hope for the sake of common sense that the deal remains off.
Talks on bringing Schiano back to coach the Rutgers football team broke off last weekend. Now, they seem to be on again.
In the days that followed the initial breakdown, we have seen a torrent of dismay among some Rutgers fans. We have read – and heard – about people threatening to never attend another game, donate to the university or even encourage their children to enroll there.
Football often prompts irrational behavior, but this still seems over the top.
From what has been publicly disclosed, Schiano’s demands are excessive – a $4 million a year salary, high wages for his assistants, a private plane, stadium upgrades and a new training facility. While he may have backed off a bit on the private plane demand, let’s remember that the football stadium was upgraded not too long ago and that a new campus training facility constructed. Schiano reportedly wants another training center just for football, which presumably would spare football players the indignity of working out in the same space as, say, members of the baseball team.
It’s hard to see why such extravagance is necessary at a public university.
Earlier this week, the Rutgers coaching saga reeled in Chris Christie. The former governor’s credentials as a sports fan are well-established. Opposing the proposed deal, Christie noted that Schiano is not Urban Meyer or Bear Bryant. For non-college football fans. Meyer won national championships with two schools (Florida and Ohio State) in the last decade or so. Bryant was a legendary coach a generation ago primarily with the University of Alabama.
Christie makes a good point, given the fact Schiano’s record in his first tenure at Rutgers was just a smidgen above .500. His supporters like to say the record is misleading, because the program was in sorry shape when he arrived and that it takes time to build anything. That’s a legitimate point, but to Christie’s larger argument, what has Schiano done since leaving Rutgers?
He had two very forgettable years as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, some can write that off by saying not every college coach is an NFL coach.
Schiano then was on the staff at Ohio State. I’m sorry, but given the talent level, doing well in Columbus doesn’t require much heavy lifting. He then took a job with the New England Patriots as defensive coordinator and resigned a few weeks later. Christie called him an “unemployed coach,” which was a bit demeaning, but also accurate.
The overall problem here is that Rutgers is caught in a box. Joining the Big Ten conference will prove to be financially lucrative, but it’s hard to see the university football team competing in the conference anytime soon.
There’s a reason for that. No matter how you slice it, New Jersey is not prime college football territory. I am talking about fan interest, not the talent of high school players. With so many professional teams in the New York and Philadelphia regions, college football simply is overshadowed.
That is why no matter what Rutgers does, it’s going to be just about impossible to duplicate what we see elsewhere in the country and elsewhere in the Big Ten – games attended by 80,000-plus people and a team revered and supported by all sports fans in the state. It’s hard to see that happening in New Jersey where for so many fans, football allegiance means the Jets, Giants or Eagles. High school players know that, which is why the best ones go elsewhere. That is one reason why maybe Rutgers should not have joined the Big Ten in the first place but, as they say, the toothpaste is out of the tube on that one.
Going forward, rather than accepting Schiano’s seemingly excessive demands, how about hiring a coach yearning to make a name for himself? Yes, Rutgers in my view is going to find competing in the Big Ten very difficult for years to come, but that doesn’t justify irrational spending on the football program.
Some may remember a quote attributed back in the 1950s to the then-president of the University of Oklahoma – “We want to build a university our football team can be proud of.”
It may have been tongue-in-cheek; it may have been sincere.
Either way, at Rutgers, it’s the university that should come first.