NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Five minutes after being introduced as the Rutgers football coach for a second time, Greg Schiano gave a clear indication why he might be the man to make the Scarlet Knights competitive in the Big Ten Conference.
With his litany of thank-yous out of the way, Schiano stood in front of a news conference packed with media and supporters on Wednesday and started speaking from the heart. His voice got louder and there was an unmistakable passion present.
It was impressive, the type of talk capable of swaying young players who might be interested in turning around a Rutgers program that has won seven games in the past three seasons, and has lost 21 consecutive conference games.
Schiano, whose eight-year, $32 million contract was approved by the university’s board of governors on Tuesday, would not put a timetable on transforming a program that has struggled since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
It took him five years to turn around Rutgers when he got the job the first time in 2001, and that was in the Big East Conference.
This is the Big Ten with the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, schools that seem to get better every season.
“Again, we’re chasing some big dudes,” Schiano said. “No, we’re passing, that’s what we’ve got to do. We ain’t chasing. We’re passing and that’s got to happen, and it’s going to take every single one of us to do it. But the real beauty of this thing, people in New Jersey know how to work. They are not afraid of work. Not afraid to get after it. But we collectively showed what can happen. That’s got to be our leaping-off point. We can’t do this because it’s just starting. Here we go.”
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A New Jersey native, Schiano went 68-67 at Rutgers from 2001-11 and turned the Scarlet Knights into consistent winners. They went to six bowl games in his final seven seasons. He left to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, but he struggled to adapt his controlling approach to the professional ranks. He was fired after posting an 11-21 record in two seasons, including 4-12 his second year.
Schiano resurfaced in 2016 when then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hired him as defensive coordinator. In 2017, Schiano seemed to be in line to get the top job at Tennessee. But the deal fell apart after widespread backlash that included a protest on campus and complaints on social media from fans, state lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates over whether Schiano might have been aware of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children at Penn State when he was an assistant coach.
Schiano said he had no knowledge of what was happening at the time.
Schiano returns to a team coming off a 2-10 record and its second straight winless season in the conference.
He met with the current team on Monday and has been talking to players who had recently put their names in the transfer portal. He needs to hire a staff, although he said interim coach Nunzio Campanile, who took over after Chris Ash was fired in late September, will remain on his staff next season.
Schiano also will have to focus on recruiting. The next day for early signings is Dec. 18.
The news conference capped a 10-day span that saw talks between Schiano and Rutgers break off before Thanksgiving and pick up again after an outcry from fans and boosters. The final deal got done in a matter of days, with a memorandum of agreement signed on Saturday.
During the lull, Schiano and his wife, Christy, took a trip back to the campus and it helped.
“When it looked like it might be going off the rails, I’m not going to lie, I was very disappointed, very disappointed and even more so after we took that little secret trip and saw how beautiful the place has really become,” he said.
The two sides realized they wanted each other and the deal that will give Schiano a $4 million annual salary got done.
Athletic director Pat Hobbs said he expects to have renderings for a new football operations center completed in the next month.
Hobbs said his goal was to bring back Schiano, although there were bumps in the negotiations.
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“He will rebuild this program to the standard of excellence he set when he was here,” said Hobbs, who took the bulk of the criticism after the talks broke down. “He will exceed those past successes and we will all celebrate together.”
Outgoing Rutgers President Robert Barchi called the hiring a quantum step forward for the program.
“Everything we do is built on what we’ve done before, but every once in a while you take a step that’s more than just incremental,” said Barchi, who is retiring after the academic year. “You take a step that makes a statement. You take a step that is going somewhere much further than where we have been and this marks one of those occasions. I reckon this to be one of the biggest.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Schiano is the right person to reignite pride in the Scarlet Knights Football, recalling that 19 years ago Schiano took the job and said: It’s time.
“Once again, faced with the challenge to turn around a football program and reignite Scarlet Knight pride, it’s time,” Murphy said. “A new era of Rutgers football and a new era of national prominence for Rutgers begins today.”