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Greg Schiano making his own adjustments are key to Rutgers making progress this season and beyond



Jul 26, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano speaks to the media during the Big 10 football media day at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano spoke about a number of topics during his press conference at Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday. Entering a critical fourth year in his second tenure at Rutgers, training camp is set to begin on August 3. Schiano wouldn’t directly answer what his expectations were for this season. However, he did express his enthusiasm for where the program currently stands.

“This is my 15th year at Rutgers, 11 my first time, going on my fourth this second time. I can honestly tell you I’ve never been more excited to be the head coach at Rutgers University,” Schiano beamed. “I love what we’re doing, I love the culture we’re building in our program, I love our players, our coaching staff. I’m excited about the way we’re handling business both on the field and off.”

There is no question that the program is in better shape since Schiano returned prior to the 2020 season. However, there was only one way to go but up after a steep decline during Chris Ash’s tenure. There were a lot of big picture issues that needed to be fixed. One of Schiano’s strengths is organizing the program in terms of resources and support systems. He’s always had vision. Schiano spoke about all the changes that needed to be made once he returned.

“It’s a little different in our situation because I had been there 11 years before I had left, and then I’d been away for 8 years. I was a little bit shocked how much things had changed. And I’m not just talking about the athletes or the football, I’m talking about the infrastructure,” Schiano explained. “So we had to really rebuild a lot of the things, whether it’s medical coverage, the way the players ate, nutrition, training, all that. You know what, I didn’t complain at all because you know when you’re taking a job what has to get done.

With his program running the way he wants it now, the next step is making real progress on the field. With the heavy lifting in getting the infrastructure rebuilt, Schiano now has an opportunity to shift his focus to a degree. Improving talent and depth is a constant process. He has been vocal about the task of player development being a primary focus at Rutgers. He expounded on why that’s the case at Big Ten media days.

“We’re a developmental program, and I think I say that often. People don’t really understand always what that means,” Schiano stated. “We’re not getting a ton of guys that are walking in the door ready to perform in the Big Ten Conference on their rookie year, on their freshman year. There’s a few, but we’re a developmental program.”

Schiano explained, “We need to get them in the pipeline. We need to develop them in the strength and conditioning area, nutrition, learn the culture. Then what happens is, as we build and build and build, the pipeline begins to become full, and we’re approaching that now, where we have 22-, 21-, 23-year-olds that are grown men, and when those guys are your best players and they play their best football at 22 years old, that’s when you start to have success at a place like Rutgers. That’s what we did the first time, and it certainly is the plan here going forward this time.”

The good news is that Rutgers has double digit key contributors from last season returning. In addition, Schiano stated how the team is in a good place from a health standpoint entering training camp. Important players including Sam Brown, Mo Toure, Aaron Young, Kessawn Abraham and Moses Walker all missed five or more games last fall. All of them are poised to play big roles this season.

Another encouraging development is the coaching staff. Schiano added three veteran coaches he has worked with in the past on offense. Having Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator, Dave Brock coaching the receivers and Pat Flaherty mentoring the offensive line should give Schiano comfort that things are being done the way he wants them to be. Having the entire defensive coaching staff returning is a big plus as well.

“Kirk Ciarrocca is a veteran coach, one that I know very well. He was on our staff at Rutgers the first go-round,” Schiano stated on Wednesday. “He brings experience, he brings clarity, knows exactly what he wants to do and I think does a great job leading and managing our staff.”

With the offensive struggles last season and the eventual firing of former offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, Schiano appeared to be involved more than usual. Having Ciarrocca in the fold should bring stability. Schiano commented on how important it is with the need to focus on other areas now as well.

“I’m excited. I enjoy going to work every day. I enjoy being with him. He’s just a true professional,” said Schiano. “Thank God we have him, right? Because my job has changed so much just in the last year. Between Kirk Ciarrocca and Joe Harasymiak, our two coordinators, I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s the best staff I’ve been on my whole career. Again, thank goodness, because a lot of my time now is spent on NIL and those type of things that have very little to do with offense or defense. If they weren’t there, I don’t know what would give. So I’m very appreciative and fortunate and blessed to have them in our program.”

This brings up an interesting point in Schiano’s approach this season and moving forward. Will he take a true step back and rely on Ciarrocca and Harasymiak more than he has with other coaches in their positions previously? Even when Schiano had the program at its pinnacle during his first tenure, his micromanaging was a point of discussion. When he was hired back four years ago, Schiano remarked how that needed to change that this time around.

“There’s a saying that I’ve really tried to stick to in the last five years or so, and that’s keep the main thing the main thing,” Schiano said in December 2019 at the press conference announcing his hiring. “I think a lot of times you can get worried about every single thing, and yeah, sure, everything’s important, but if everything’s important, nothing’s important. I think I’ve learned that I’m in charge of the main thing and I’ve got to keep focused on the main thing.”

He continued, “There are going to be other people that can take care of other stuff, but when someone trusts their son with me, I’ve got a big, big responsibility and I’ve got to make sure I keep my focus on them. Players is the biggest focus, whereas the first time around, it was plays, it was schemes, it was techniques. I’ll hire really, really good coaches and they are going to be excellent at that, and I’ll help because I have 30 years of experience. But I have a responsibility to those parents. I got your son. I ultimately am in charge, so I got your son and I’ve got to make sure that I carry that out and that’s probably the biggest — not that I didn’t do that, but I think my focus is even going to be more on that this second go-around.”

To put things in perspective, Schiano made these comments before the transfer portal and NIL dominated the college football landscape. So his main point back then is even more relevant now. There is no question being a head coach is more challenging than ever.

To Schiano’s credit, the culture at Rutgers appears strong. There have been no major issues since his return and the retention rate of players has been high. As Big Ten programs Northwestern and Minnesota deal with allegations of hazing and other misconduct, Schiano has stuck to his word in doing things the right way. However, there is no denying he’s had a lot on his plate since his return including making several staff changes.

Now having stability with Ciarrocca and Harasymiak, it gives Schiano a real opportunity to have more time to focus on the overall big picture. Even so, it will be an adjustment for him to do so. But it does seem necessary, especially because player development is so important to moving the program forward. Recruiting and NIL are hugely important as well. The 2024 recruiting class is looking like the best haul Schiano will bring into the program since his return. However, the challenges are only growing.

“I think, number one, the biggest challenge, you look around at the logos on that wall. We play in the best conference in America. So we have to build a program that can compete at that level and someday be a championship-level program.”

He continued, “How do you do that? You do that one step at a time. You recruit the right players, and you develop them. To me that’s it. Part of the development is all the things that surround them, like I mentioned, nutrition, strength and conditioning, mental health, physical health, equipment, all the areas. Because then the football part, that’s what they love. That’s why they’re there, and they want to play. They’re dying to do that. It’s the other things that you have to — because, again, if we know who we are, we have to develop our guys and get them to the end of their career, where they’re playing their best football. That’s how we’ll win there.”

Rutgers has a veteran coaching staff and continuity in its leadership including on the roster. There are many key contributors returning along several important players returning from injury. A few transfer additions will have a opportunity to be major factors as well. Year four has a real chance to be the most successful season for the program in many years, not just since Schiano has returned.

Starting the season off strong against Northwestern in the opener, getting the most out of Gavin Wimsatt at quarterback, keeping Sam Brown bringing balance to the team and taking advantage of breaks along the way are all keys to having a successful season. At the end of the day, it comes down to how this team performs and results produced.

Now is time to continue to make the adjustments necessary to put Rutgers in the best position possible. Schiano seems to understand that. It’s clear he cares deeply about his players. The future also looks positive with the 2024 class, but recruiting with NIL involved is more complicated than ever. However, resisting the itch to micromanage every issue during the season is a challenge for any head coach. This season gives Schiano an opportunity to make adjustments in how he manages the team and the program, both in the present as well as with a steady eye on the future. If can do that and the team is able to improve its play, the program and his second tenure will be in a stronger position because of it.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. pj43

    July 29, 2023 at 10:56 pm

    Great piece, Aaron. An interesting discussion regarding Schiano’s coaching adjustments and the need to avoid micromanagement. I’m one who believes that his pro HC experience in conjunction with his time under Urban Meyer make him well suited to be successful in his second go with Rutgers. He knows what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten. I’ve said before that I think he has the right plan and he’s working that plan. He now has the right coaching staff to execute and maximize his “developmental” program. He’s building depth and bringing in the size, speed and talent necessary to compete and succeed in this conference. I think it was Teddy Roosevelt who was quoted as saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”. Schiano and his staff seem to have embraced that idea in their recruiting and the culture he’s established since his arrival. This season is about the younger players gaining experience. How quickly they advance over the course of the season will determine the number of wins achieved. But, regardless of the final record, it’s my opinion that the turn has been made and that Schiano has the program pointed in the right direction. This is the most positive I’ve felt about this program since it entered the Big Ten.

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