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The big picture takeaway in Rutgers hiring Kirk Ciarrocca



Rutgers Ciarrocca
Photo credit Rutgers Athletics

Whether you are excited about the return of Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator or remain skeptical, from a big picture standpoint his hiring is a positive and encouraging sign. Rutgers made him the highest paid assistant coach in school history and by a wide margin. That type of commitment should not be assumed nor go by unappreciated.

With Ciarrocca reportedly set to make $1.4 million per season for three years, Rutgers is showing a firm commitment towards producing a winning football program. Winning in the Big Ten requires a certain investment. When Rutgers joined the Big Ten, the disparity between the athletic department compared to longtime members of the conference was gigantic. Over time, we’ve witnessed athletic director Pat Hobbs, Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, as well as many boosters and alumni step up in major ways to close the gap. Results have followed on the field or court in many sports. Football is still behind, but the latest hire for the program shows that Greg Schiano’s mission to turn things around continues to have the full support of Rutgers.

In addition, it was reported that Ciarrocca’s $275,000 buyout is being paid by RU as well. While 2023 salaries are not yet public, Ciarrocca’s annual total would have had him as the second highest paid offensive coordinator in the Big Ten last season.

When Greg Schiano returned to Rutgers in December 2019, he harped on the need for a full commitment from everyone to be successful including himself, his team, the fans, boosters, etc. His point was clear though in that he returned because there were no longer doubts about how serious Rutgers was about winning.

“What just transpired was an incredible effort by our university,” Schiano said in his introductory press conference over three years ago. “You can’t say any more that Rutgers is not all in. Rutgers is all-in.”

This remains true today and the hiring of Ciarrocca reiterates that reality. In addition to paying Ciarrocca, Rutgers will pay former offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson $1,050,000 what he is owed after letting him go midway through last season. The old way in Piscataway would have been to underpay Gleeson’s replacement due to needing to pay two salaries next season. Instead, the school is paying Ciarrocca 33% more per year than Gleeson was signed for.

For any longtime Rutgers supporter, that fact alone is worth pausing for. Of course, how much you pay someone doesn’t guarantee any level of success. However, how you pay someone does impact the quality of experience and pedigree of potential candidates. Ciarrocca brings almost two decades of experience as an offensive coordinator, a play caller and was successful in those roles at a top half Big Ten program in recent seasons.

In addition to paying significantly more money than ever before, Rutgers wasn’t deterred by Ciarrocca signing a contract extension with Minnesota last month. Instead, they made a “Godfather” like offer to Ciarrocca. With such a high salary offer, he had no choice but to strongly consider it. With other ties personally to the job, the offer ultimately became a signed contract.

“There are not a lot of jobs out there that would have gotten me to leave the University of Minnesota,” Ciarrocca said at Monday’s introductory press conference. “I know that because Coach wasn’t the only guy who called me in the off-season. But I really wasn’t looking to leave the University of Minnesota. What came upon me in talking with Coach was what I considered a great opportunity, a chance to get back on the East Coast; that’s where I’m from. This is where my family is; a chance to work with a guy that I respect the heck out of.”

Ciarrocca continued, “I thought that this was the right time at Rutgers. So I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the country that could have gotten me to leave Minnesota besides Coach to be honest with you, and the opportunity to do this here at Rutgers and do at home.”

While those personal connections were important factors, Rutgers making such a big time commitment to Ciarrocca was certainly a difference maker. Without such a strong financial offer, Ciarrocca would likely have been content to stay at Minnesota where he had also returned to for a second stint.

That fact was not lost on Schiano, who made a point at the end of his opening statement to make it clear the university’s commitment is essential to turning the football program into a winner.

“I want to thank Rutgers, the University administration for stepping up in a big way,” Schiano said at the introductory press conference. “As a head coach, you have to do what you think is best for the program, but you don’t operate in a vacuum. And there’s a lot of people that stepped up and when we talk about the support and what’s needed to compete in the Big Ten Conference for championships — the Rutgers administration understands and they are supportive and I can’t thank them enough for that. It means a great deal to me and where we are headed.”

Ciarrocca’s new offense needs more talent and depth to be successful. However, Rutgers now has a competent, proven leader in place. How Ciarrocca develops the quarterback room, including Gavin Wimsatt, will be key to whether his second tenure at Rutgers is more successful than his first run. His relationship with Schiano is stronger than before and should allow him to make a quick and seamless transition.

Time is of the essence in a critical offseason for the program. Rutgers needs to win now. There are no excuses with the highest paid head coach and highest paid assistant coach in school history leading the football program. With a record media rights deal for the Big Ten set to boost revenue shares by a significant margin, Rutgers is acting like a big time college football program. That’s a necessary step in order to win at the power five level. For Rutgers fans, that’s a new reality that shouldn’t be taken lightly or for granted. As far as the offseason goes, that’s as big of a win as possible.

Here is our latest podcast episode with audio clips of Schiano and Ciarrocca at Monday’s press conference as well as full analysis of their comments.

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  1. thevinman

    January 17, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    Kirk Ciarrocca stresses QB accuracy over having a strong arm. Amazing how a strong arm is what coaching staffs seem to always prioritize ore than accuracy and good decision making. Just look at Tom Brady’s career or if you want to look at someone other than the best QB of all time, look at what Brock Purdy has done in a short time.

    Kirk Ciarrocca’s introductory press conference.

  2. Henry Rutgers

    January 19, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    As always, a great, well written insightful article. I remain lukewarm and skeptical.

    I will support the hire but my patience with the endless need for money for stadiums, practice facilities, salaries that exceed what well run corporations pay top management, direct payments to athletes through NIL agreements etc. is, after decades of support, reaching an end.

    We can’t be in the BigTen without football. The collaborative research, the non-revenue sports, the medical advances all go with being in the Big Ten. One of my neighbors who manages the RU microbiology research team was telling me, over the holidays, about how his teams research objectives have accelerated because of the Big Ten collaboration agreements. Advances in engineering, science, technology and the arts are all contingent on BigTen membership. Some of these are lifesaving advances and it all depends on Coach Schiano and his leadership.

    We need progress measured in wins — six minimum or like any corporation we need to reevaluate the leadership team. Holloway, Hobbs and Schiano, not some hapless assistant working with one hand tied behind his back being micromanaged, are accountable. As a taxpayer I’m not thrilled at all the salaries being paid to people no longer employed by the university. It just seems endless. We’re probably still paying Julie Hermann and Eddie Jordan. Now we can add the former OC, the Interim OC and probably a few others. No business is run this way. Well, maybe Disney but we aren’t supposed to get political in these posts. Six wins and then I’ll learn how to spell the new OC’s name. Otherwise, we need radical change from the top of the university down.

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