Rutgers Football: Is The Best Behind The Scarlet Knights?

HOWARD MEGDAL: My teams cannot hurt me with futility. I grew up a Rutgers football fan.

I listened to the 80-7 loss to West Virginia on the radio. I believed Marco Battaglia and Terrell Willis were the beginning of a better time. I even placed a wager on Rutgers when they faced Notre Dame, receiving the preposterous 56 points the spread called for. The Scarlet Knights fell, 62-0.

Then came Greg Schiano, New Jersey-born, Miami pedigreed, and suddenly, Rutgers provided something more than unfulfilled promise- it seemed like the long-delayed program had finally been born.

Scratch that. It wasn’t suddenly. Even Schiano struggled, four losing seasons. 80-7 was on his watch!

Then, gloriously, winning. A bowl game in 2005. Better still, a 2006 game that had national implications, facing Louisville on the road. I remember watching the first half at the gym, absolutely invigorated that a game with Rutgers mattered. And not just to me.

I drove home fast, tried to explain to my then-fiancee that this wasn’t like a Rutgers football game I could just watch later, or read about- this one, everyone would be talking about tomorrow. And that Schiano defense held, and the offense scored enough, and 28-25- national title, here we come! 9-0!

It was not to be, but that 11-2 record, a bowl victory- the first!- it all seemed like a setup for the championships I’d grown up knowing should have been part of Rutgers football, if only the program would get out of its own way.

Instead, Schiano was merely good. Imagine 8-9 wins a year as disappointment! This from 80-7, from 62-0, from Marco Battaglia or bust.

I can’t help, as a longtime Rutgers football fan, but feel like this was our chance. Get to a BCS game, win a conference title or two, maybe they let you hang around the elites once Schiano leaves. But suddenly, any Florida team can come steal our coaches. Not the Miami Hurricanes or Dolphins, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers commandeer Schiano? And Florida International keeps us from Mario Cristobal?

It all seems so wrong, and yet so right, somehow. This losing, this return to feeling bleakness when thinking about Rutgers football- this is what I remember. Maybe Kyle Flood will be another Schiano, or even Schiano-plus- who was Schiano before he became Schiano, anyhow?

But even maybe is a comedown from what it felt like Greg Schiano’s Rutgers would be. How’s that for a change from 80-7?

CHRIS PUMMER: Greg Schiano did a fine job turning around a Rutgers program that he also left in the lurch with his sudden departure last week. But as a coach, he wasn’t a unique talent, and to think the Scarlet Knights couldn’t find another capable coach is overreaction.

To be sure, under Schiano, Rutgers had its finest seasons in nearly three decades. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that during the Scarlet Knights’ current run of six winning season in the last seven years, the Big East hasn’t exactly been a powerhouse of a football conference.

Despite this, Rutgers hasn’t finished better than 5-2 in the Big East. Even if you wipe away Schiano’s rebuilding years — the first four years he helmed the Scarlet Knights — his teams finished 25-24 over the last seven seasons.

That’s not to say Schiano’s record isn’t respectable, especially for a program that hadn’t had a winning record for eight years before his arrival. Schiano had more winning seasons (6) than his three most recent predecessors combined (4), and he posted those in much more impressive fashion.

And yet, I think it’s hard to say Schiano is irreplaceable. Rutgers is back to respectability, but not a perennial powerhouse. The next coach will have an uphill battle, especially with Schaino’s departure timed right before National Signing Day. And of course, any time a college must make a hire, it’s a roll of the dice: Will the guy without experience grow into the job, or will the guy with experience be able to recreate the success that make him appealing?

Schiano was a good hire. Rutgers can certainly make another one.

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