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Eyes on the gridiron
Greg Schiano aims to make people think differently about Rutgers football

Archived article from Sep 14, 2001

By Douglas Frank  

The eyes of New Jersey are focused on Rutgers football this fall, as the Scarlet Knights rally around new coach Greg Schiano.

At 35, Schiano, the nation's youngest Division 1-A head coach, possesses impressive credentials. For the past two seasons, he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami, a Rutgers Big East opponent. He also spent three seasons with professional football's Chicago Bears and was a defensive backfield coach at Penn State University. In nine seasons as a collegiate coach, he has accompanied his teams to bowl games seven times.

Long-term expectations are high, pumped up by the excitement stirred up in Schiano's hiring last December and his subsequent success in reaching out to New Jersey's high school coaches. He has hired a first-class coaching staff and landed his first recruiting class, touted by some observers as Rutgers' best ever.

Rutgers' 28th head football coach strode off the pre-season practice field to greet reporters waiting around a picnic table set up for the purpose of impromptu interviews.

He spoke easily with them as though they were old friends, fielding questions about the team: how the offensive line is shaping up, how the defense is meshing and so on.

"Is the team meeting my expectations, are they better than when I got here? Yes. They are faster, leaner, stronger. Are they good enough for what we have to be right now? No. Are they committed? Yes."

This type of honesty puts Schiano in good stead with the sports media, according to John Wooding, assistant athletic director for media relations.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest by the media, not only what we solicit but also incoming requests for interviews, which is an outstanding situation," Wooding says. "Since Coach Schiano came aboard, he has been working with us to make sure we maximize the interest. He is a very engaging speaker, and he has been great to work with."

Schiano is also patient, willing to do what it takes to bring winning football to Rutgers. He's not too worried about the won-lost columns, at least for a while.

"We have to win people over one at a time. High school coaches, recruits, parents, fans, the media. There is no opportunity too small to spread the word about Rutgers in this state," he says.

How does Rutgers overcome the stigma of losing?

"It comes back to one thing: we have to change the culture -- the way people think about Rutgers football and how Rutgers thinks about Rutgers football," says Schiano. "If you have that as your broad vision, then there's nothing that's not worth doing.

"Our football program is part of a greater thing, and that is Rutgers University. Our kids are going to graduate, and they are going to leave here with championship rings and with degrees.

"Just as we're going to be the best in our academic programs, we're going to be the best in our football program. And that's going to make everybody proud."

Schiano hit the ground running on his arrival in New Brunswick. Among his first activities was meeting with his players and then with more than 100 high school coaches from New Jersey. Rutgers hosted a "Best of the Best" Night, where nearly 40 of the top high school players in the state made unofficial visits to campus.

He subsequently landed a 21-member recruiting class -- including 13 New Jersey All-State athletes, seven from Florida, where he coached previously, and one from Missouri. Among other activities was a clinic in April for high school coaches to observe practice and scrimmage situations.

The first recruiting weekend stressed academics as the recruits met individually with academic advisers. Mark Segaloff, a recruit from Toms River North High School, was impressed by meeting professors along with coaches and praised the experience in a diary published in the Star-Ledger. Segaloff also was impressed that Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy spent as much time with recruits as he did, something that he said did not occur at other schools.

Attention to the players is paramount in the Schiano program. "We've been involved in every aspect of their lives. Our coaches meet the players for breakfast and help them plan out each day. If players realize that you care about them more than just out there on that field, the levels that you obtain are higher."

Schiano chose 10 of his 13 coaches from New Jersey. They constitute a staff that Mulcahy calls "second to none."

"A lot of the guys left some pretty good jobs, head coaching jobs, because this place is important to them," Schiano declares. "When a kid gets here, he realizes these guys are for real. They didn't come here just to win some games."

Among the staff are two of his own former mentors, Mike Miello, recruiting coordinator and coach of the running backs, and Joe Susan, offensive line coach.

Miello, recognized as one of the top high school coaches in the state with a career record of 178-89-3 in 27 seasons, coached Schiano at Ramapo High School. Susan recruited and coached Schiano at Bucknell.

Miello acknowledged the role reversal, saying, "I believe in Greg Schiano and his vision for Rutgers football, and I believe we'll be very successful here."

Susan, originally from South River, had completed a 10-0 record and was Division 1-AA "Coach of the Year" while leading Davidson College to its first undefeated season. "I am a New Jersey boy," says Susan, "and I always had a feel for what it would take to get it done here at Rutgers. I think the main focus Greg has come in with is to try to corner the market on recruiting in New Jersey."

The players, too, are "truly excited, both freshmen and upperclassmen, about being the first to turn things around. They are taking pride in being the framework of the beginning of the new program," according to Schiano.

Torrance Heggie, for instance, a senior defensive end who transferred to Rutgers last year, points to the winning attitude that is growing here. "Everyone is working hard, and I can see it in their eyes. Every-body wants to win."

Another senior, offensive lineman Mike Esposito, agrees that the push to recruit in New Jersey is the way to go. "Look at the state of New Jersey and look at the type of athletes New Jersey produces and just imagine if you could keep them here. The talent in this state is unbelievable."

One of Schiano's freshmen, Sameeh McDonald of West Side High School in Newark, is a 6-foot-5-inch, 290-pound lineman who was a three-year starter in high school and who won county, conference, state and city honors.

"Rutgers was a lot different from every other recruiting trip I've been on. The atmosphere was around changing a program and building it up and keeping guys in New Jersey. That impressed me a lot," he recalls.

Athletic Director Mulcahy is pleased with the program, but cautious about expecting too much in the first year or two.

"I would say that Greg Schiano has lived up to everything that I had hoped he would and exceeded my expectations in many areas. I think that he is the real deal," he says. "But right now, we're hoping to manage expectations until we have the opportunity to bring in a few recruiting classes."

For the future, Schiano extends a promise to Rutgers football fans.

"We will make this the place to be on Saturdays in New Jersey. It will become an event here. Most of our great players are going to end up coming here and playing football at Rutgers, the way it should be. There's not a doubt in my mind about that."

"It's Time"

Along with this new slogan, proclaimed on publications, posters and billboards throughout the state, Rutgers has come up with some time-tested, and a few new, ideas to generate fan excitement for the football program. These include:

bullet A TV commercial featuring Coach Schiano and 1983 graduate James Gandolfini, star of "The Sopranos." You can catch it during televised games and at other times.

bullet "Inside Rutgers Football with Greg Schiano," a new 30-minute, magazine-style TV show, hosted by NBC's Bruce Beck, airing on MSG, CN8 and Cablevision.

bullet "Coach's Huddle," a luncheon meeting for fans Thursdays at the Hale Center to analyze the previous game and offer a scouting report on the next opponent. Call ext. 2-7629 for details and reservations.

bullet New scarlet and white uniforms and a scarlet helmet with a large white "R."

bullet A huge, air-filled Rutgers helmet that the team will run through to get to the field on game days.

bullet Having fans wear red to each home game. Coach Schiano wants visiting teams to see a "sea of red" when they take the field.

bullet, a sports Web site containing up-to-date information about football and all other Rutgers sports.

bulletGame promotions for kids under 12, birthday parties, scout troops, Pop Warner teams, Rutgers faculty and staff, and families.

bullet Kids Zone, sponsored by the Liberty Science Center and open two hours before kickoff, featuring rides, games, face painting and more.

bullet Meet the Team, two hours before game time at the statue near the Hale Center commemorating the first college football game. Each player will touch the statue before going through a gauntlet of fans to the locker room.

For questions or comments about this site, contact Greg Trevor
Last Updated: May 30, 2006

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