NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ –Greg Schiano broke into pregame, rah-rah coachspeak Wednesday, almost as if he was ready right there, right then to lead his team onto the field at Ann Arbor or Columbus or Happy Valley.
There will be a time when Rutgers will be able to take on Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and the rest of the best of the Big Ten, Schiano told everyone who had crammed into the Hale Center for his re-introductory press conference.
The staff will be hired, the players will be recruited, the facilities will be built and this floundering program will rise again and transform into a football team all of New Jersey can look to with pride.
“You can't say any more that Rutgers is not all in. Rutgers is all-in,” Schiano said. “Now it's our turn. Starts with me, our players. Our fans. Our boosters. Everybody's got to go all in, because here is the problem, we entered the Big Ten Conference a few years ago and the teams that we're looking up at right now, they are not waiting for Rutgers: Hey, come on guys, catch it, not even happening. They are moving.”
Schiano spoke from the heart Wednesday to a room that included Gov. Phil Murphy, Rutgers President Robert Barchi, Athletic Director Pat Hobbs and former players such as Eric LeGrand.
The Rutgers Board of Governors on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve the coach’s eight-year, $32 million contract, ending an on-again, off-again courtship between the school and the coach over the past several weeks.
Schiano’s return seems to have re-energized a fanbase that was horrified at the team’s 9-39 record over the past four seasons.
Schiano walked a red-carpeted walkway lined with about 200 cheering fans as he entered the Hale Center on Wednesday.
One of Schiano’s biggest fans, it turns out, is Gov. Murphy.
Murphy said he had spoken with the Schiano a few times over the past few weeks, trying to broker a deal between the coach and the university he took to six bowl games over his final seven years as Scarlet Knights coach.
“Through our talks, Coach Schiano and I both found we are born under a similar star,” Murphy said. “We both know that everything Rutgers needs, not just to be competitive, but to contend in the Big Ten, is right here in New Jersey. Strong, in-state recruiting was the hallmark of the first Schiano era at Rutgers, and I know it will be the hallmark of this program once again.”
Even the icy relationship that reportedly built up between Schiano and Hobbs during the protracted negotiation process seemed to thaw under the warm feelings in the room.
Hobbs said he recently had lunch with three former Schiano players – Ryan Hart, Brian Leonard and Anthony Cali. If Hobbs needed another little nudge to hire Schiano, the players offered it.
“They talked about how they wouldn't be the men they are today if it wasn't for Coach Schiano,” Hobbs said. “They talked about the way they approached life, how they treat their families, the integrity that they bring to their professions. How they approach everything using the lessons they learned here at Rutgers under Coach Schiano. Incredibly powerful. What a great testament the effect of one person on the effect of hundreds of young men.”
What sort of defense Schiano will employ or who he goes after in recruiting or who his offensive line coach will be are questions for another day.
Wednesday was about the reunification of a coach and the school he professes to love – even to the extent that he and his wife, Christy, hopped a flight to Newark, walked through the airport in a disguise, rented a car and drove into New Brunswick only to find how much the campus and city had changed since he left in 2011.
“I turned to Christy and I said, ‘Oh, I hope this works,’” Schiano said. “We recruited these players with nothing. Literally it was a great academic school but it wasn't -- like compared to other campuses, we kind of hid the campus. Now I can't wait to get our recruits out on that campus, show them proud, say look at this, look at this, because there is no place nicer. It's beautiful.”