PISCATAWAY, NJ – Greg Schiano, the man credited with the rise of the Rutgers football program in the 2000s, returned to Piscataway Saturday night as the Scarlet Knights hosted Ohio State at High Point Solutions Stadium.
A Wycoff, N.J. native, Schiano took Rutgers to six bowl games in his 10-year career in Piscataway from 2001-11 and won five of them. He brought Rutgers back to respectability and put the country on notice with a shocking 28-25 win over No. 3 Louisville in 2006. His success in turning around the program allowed the State University of New Jersey the opportunity to join the Big Ten Conference, and enclose then-called Rutgers Stadium at the time.
To fans dismay, Schiano abruptly left on Jan. 26, 2012, days before National Signing Day, to take a head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL.
Now the defensive coordinator for Ohio State, Schiano made his first trip back to Rutgers and coached-up the Buckeyes defense that held Rutgers scoreless and to only 209 yards in a 56-0 win. Rutgers had a brief special tribute during the first timeout of the first quarter as the P.A. announcer said a few words about the highlights of his Scarlet Knights tenure with photos scrolling through on the video board. Not one to get sentimental, Schiano never looked up from his clipboard on the sideline.
At the base of the tunnel after the game, Schiano told TAPinto Piscataway and a few other local media members that he was going to watch a recording of it.
"It was different, just living here for so long and being part of this," Schiano said on being back. “But once you start coaching your kids, you forget where you are. You've got a job to do. But it's neat to see. I haven't been back in a while. The place looks great.
"I haven't been back much so it was a little weird. What are you going to say? It's weird. But really good people here. I didn't get to see many people but so many people made our time here special.”
Before the brief interview, Schiano looked up to the very top of the stands at the lit-up “52”, which signifies the retired number of ex-Scarlet Knight Eric LeGrand. Schiano wasn’t at the school in 2013 when the ceremony took place, but he was the coach when LeGrand went down and became paralyzed during a game against Army at MetLife Stadium in 2010. He was there with LeGrand and his mother, Karen, at the hospital helping take care of him. LeGrand has since regained some movement and sensation in his body.
“I feel bad I didn’t see him at first,” Schiano said. “He said, ‘You walked right by me coach. You had your game face on.’ I mean, you’re talking about him and Karen, and they’re cream of the crop people.”
Soaking up the atmosphere, Schiano also listened to Rutgers’ Alma Mater “On the Banks of the Old Raritan”.
"I heard it playing, I said, 'Stop for a minute’...it's pretty cool,'' Schiano said.
Since Schiano left Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have gone 30-38, and only 7-24 since 2015 as the program has gone through numerous off-field issues (which were just resolved a few days ago with the NCAA punishments being announced, less towards the school and more towards former coach, Kyle Flood). Rutgers also hasn't had players with enough talent and depth to compete in the extremely tough East Division of the Big Ten.
So, does Schiano think about what if he never left and ushered Rutgers into the Big Ten himself?
"Sure,'' he said. "All the time.''
And what does he think about it?
"It doesn't matter,'' he said, "because I didn't stay. But, yeah, do I think about it? Sure I do. I mean, I love the place. I love the people here. It's a special place to me.''
Rutgers has been completely overmatched facing teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. The team has looked better at times in 2017, but injuries have thinned out a team that was already thin.
New coach Chris Ash came in and is in his second year. There haven’t been many wins (three so far), but he’s changed the culture and cleaned up the program. Nobody is getting in trouble off the field.
But on the field, they are in trouble. They need good players and they need them fast.
So how does Ash help Rutgers close the wide gap between the Scarlet Knights and the top tier programs in the conference?
"That's the old question, right?” Schiano said. “It's a hard one. But it always comes down to good coaches and good players. You've got to be able to get good coaches and you've got to be able to get good players. Chris is a smart guy. You can see they're better. It's going to take a little time."
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