Rutgers Football: A Fan Base and Program Divided Against Itself
After sitting through yet another disappointing and head-scratching loss against a Big East rival, and listening to the fan reaction thereafter, you could feel the chasm between both sides of the Greg Schiano debate grow just a little bit wider.
In the New York/New Jersey sports market, people want results. And they want these results yesterday. For years, Rutgers was the laughingstock of college football and Greg Schiano was the one man willing and able to take on the job of fixing the mess.
He took the job as coach of R.U. to two words from then-athletic director Bob Mulcahy: "Fix it."
Schiano did just that.
Despite doubters and haters and several years when Schiano's firing seemed imminent, the coach turned the program from a perennial doormat that any and all teams penned in as a win in their schedule to a bowl team in 2005. The program rose to national prominence in 2006 and many people believed that Schiano's team deserved at an at-large BCS bowl bid. They haven't missed a postseason since.
However, things have darkened on the banks of the Old Raritan for this coach. A disappointing start to 2008 and a six-game rally to make the postseason left high hopes for this year. A highly touted quarterback and a road win at Maryland left fans thinking a run was possible.
R.U. lost yet another Big East game and poor coaching and player development was to blame. But herein lies the crux of the matter from a fan's perspective.
There are two camps of Rutgers fans.
Fan No. 1 has sat through the lean years, watched his team lose hundreds of games, and remembers the times when Rutgers could not even compete with its opponents on any level.
Fan No. 2 joined the bandwagon when the program started winning in 2005. The aforementioned has a great resentment for the latter.
If you criticize Schiano, you are a " bandwagon jumper" and are reminded of the old days. You are told that you couldn't be a "real fan" and are told that "it used to be much worse" and we should appreciate what we have.
Schiano has entrenched himself as the "savior" of Rutgers football. How long is that accomplishment a crutch on which to lean?
The fact is, Schiano has made his share of mistakes and missed his golden opportunities. This is a team that, in year nine, should not have to rely on true freshmen at so many positions.
Yes, it is a team that lost its top two wide receivers and starting quarterback to the NFL. But the team it played last night lost its share of talent, as well.
Cincinnati, who thrashed Rutgers on opening day, lost lost a whopping nine starters on defense and managed to win at South Florida Thursday night with its backup quarterback.
But the critics of the program again are reminded, "You aren't a real fan" or "Look where we were and look where we are now".
Me? I fall somewhere in the middle.
I look at the talent we have and understand that this is a team that ought to be better than it is. Schiano as the "savior" of R.U. football has made himself untouchable.
The program is obviously much better than it was, but how long will Schiano be rewarded for the same accomplishment?
The school must make a decision. We know Schiano was the one to rescue the program from the doldrums. However, do we know he is the one to push it to the next level? That is the question that bears asking. It doesn't make you a bad fan.
Until a decision is made, we will sit with the status-quo. We will be a perennial bowl team who wins its seven to eight games a year, loses games it should have won, and wins some games it should have lost.
Is that good enough?
For one half of the fan-base, it is. But for the other half, the criticism will continue until Schiano proves he is the one to push R.U. to the next level. If he is, the higher-ups headed by A.D. Tim Pernetti must figure out why it hasn't already happened or when and how to make it happen.
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