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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
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
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.
"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.
"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.
New scarlet and white uniforms and a scarlet helmet with
a large white "R."
A huge, air-filled Rutgers helmet that the team will run
through to get to the field on game days.
Having fans wear red to each home game. Coach Schiano
wants visiting teams to see a "sea of red" when they take
Scarletknights.com, a sports Web site containing
up-to-date information about football and all other Rutgers
Game promotions for kids under 12, birthday parties,
scout troops, Pop Warner teams, Rutgers faculty and staff,
Kids Zone, sponsored by the Liberty Science Center and
open two hours before kickoff, featuring rides, games, face
painting and more.
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.