He should have left when Miami came calling.
He should have packed his bags when Michigan offered him the keys to The Big House.
Instead, he stayed in Piscataway, constantly invoking the mantra that Rutgers was where he wanted to be.
Greg Schiano has been named the new head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He leaves behind a desperate scramble to find a new head coach before National Letter of Intent Day, a stellar recruiting class on the brink of falling into a pit of mediocrity and a team of adopted “sons” wondering if the program will slide back into the dark days of losing records and a half empty stadium.
Schiano has every right to move on. This is, after all, a business.
Every year, a dozen or so college football coaches are fired. A dozen or so more move on to their “dream job.” Of course, more often than not, that dream refers to the fistfuls of money being offered by a desperate university, not the actual university.
Schiano, though, had everyone convinced that he was different. He wasn’t trying to convince us; we were already there. Everything he said, everything he did and every overture he rebuffed led fans, students, alumni and the media to believe he was different. He wasn’t a college football coach; he was the Rutgers University football coach.
That’s what makes his choice so difficult to understand.
It certainly isn’t a money issue. Someone who makes over 2.5 million dollars per year isn’t holding off on buying new drapes until that three-million-dollar-a-year job comes along.
By all accounts, it isn’t an issue of university support. Schiano wanted students to come out and cheer for the Knights, and they waited in line by the thousands for tickets to the program-changing win over Louisville in 2006. He wanted an expanded stadium and updated facilities, and a public university somehow found the money to do both.
He wanted complete control over the program and was given as much by his lifelong friend and athletic director, Tim Pernetti.
A banner hangs over the entrance to the Rutgers practice field with the acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y. written in three-foot-tall letters. There are numerous interpretations of this particular grouping of letters, but the one most people associate with it is Forget about Me, I Love You.
Corny? Perhaps. Clichéd? Definitely.
But family is a theme that has run through the Rutgers program since Schiano took over eleven years ago.
He has often remarked that trusting parents send their boys to Rutgers, and he sends them home as men. He saw his development of them as a source of pride and a great responsibility.
So what happened? What convinced Greg Schiano that it was time to move on?
It certainly wasn’t a sense of accomplishment.
Yes, the academic progress of the players during Schiano’s tenure cannot be questioned. He insisted that they be students first, athletes second, and for that he should be applauded.
Certainly he has helped to shape men of quality, men with well-defined goals and the ambition to reach those goals.
But he never made it to a BCS bowl game. He never won a conference championship, even in the Big East—the conference most undeserving, most would argue, of automatic qualifying status.
He convinced many New Jersey blue chippers to stay home, but not all.
He won five out of six bowl games, but most were of the type named for apparel or fast food products.
Rarely has a coach seemed so attached to his “family” of players. If polled, I’m sure most college football fans would choose Schiano as the most likely to follow in the footsteps of the late Joe Paterno, his longtime mentor, and become Rutgers University much like Paterno took on the mantle of being Penn State.
As far as leaving the Rutgers team in better shape than he found it, is that really any solace to the players, students and fans?
He took them from obscurity, and left them as an also-ran.
Perhaps it would have been better if he hadn’t stopped in Piscataway at all. A vegetarian doesn’t miss a big juicy steak if he’s never had one. Rutgers fans wouldn’t be so enamored with the peak of the football world if Schiano hadn’t taken them halfway up the mountain.
And what will any of the minor successes mean if Rutgers just slides back into the lower half of college football?
You can pound your chest and point to your accomplishments only if they last.
Time will tell if Greg Schiano can look back at his days at Rutgers with pride, or with the lingering doubts of what might have been.
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