Thursday, January 26, 2012

Schiano's Quick Exit Leaves Rutgers Recruiting Class in a Lurch

Greg Schiano, the former head coach at Rutgers— who abruptly left the university to become head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers— leaves behind a rudderless ship with a recruiting class ready to jump overboard.

Schiano— who returned the Rutgers football program to respectability but never delivered on his promise to deliver a championship— agreed to a five-year contract with Tampa Bay right before the Feb. 1 college football signing day.

The 11-year head coach was just days away from finalizing the best recruiting class at Rutgers— ever.

Schiano met with Rutgers players and coaches at the Hale Center this afternoon to make his decision public.  Speculation about the move had been swirling around the Internet all day.

At the 25 minute meeting, it was announced that Kyle Flood, the offensive line and assistant head coach under Schiano, would be named Rutgers interim coach.

The abrupt change could have a devastating effect on a recruiting class that many consider one of the best in the country.  Seventeen players have already given non-binding commitments to Rutgers— and maybe more importantly—Schiano.

Some of the high-schoolers Schiano already sold the school on include four-star players like Leonte Carroo, J.J. Denmon, Quazell Lambert and Chris Muller.

Top-40 recruit Devin Fuller and N.J.'s top recruit from football factory Don Bosco, defensive end Darius Hamilton, had both been in touch with Rutgers but never committed.

Hamilton's dad— former New York Giants defensive tackle Keith— said his son will visit Miami this week, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

Ryan Brodie— N.J.'s top high school  outside linebacker has already re-opened recruiting with other schools, according to the Star-Ledger.

"Blindsided is a pretty good word.  No idea," said Brodie's coach at Long Branch.

Before jumping ship, Schiano was touted as a good recruiter and blasted for being a lousy game coach.  He turned a mediocre program into pretty good team in the middling Big East conference.

Schiano still had five years left on his contract and was N.J.'s highest paid public employee with an annual salary of $2.3 million at the state university.

Rutgers' mundane record of 68-67 (49-28 since 2006) wasn't a true reflection of the head coach's legacy.  Schiano— who became famous around the Garden State for appearing in a commercial with The Sopranos actor James Gandolfini helping to promote Rutgers football— leaves a big footprint in Piscataway.

Under Schiano, Rutgers did produce the school's only first-round NFL draft picks and their stadium was able to undergo a controversial $102 million renovation to add 11,000 seats.

Before jumping ship, Schiano earned a reputation as a good recruiter and lousy game coach. He never won a league title and all of the six post-season appearances Rutgers made with Schiano were in second-tier bowl games.

David Rowe, a former Rutgers safety in his senior year spoke about the sudden departure.

"I'm shocked," he said.  "All the players are shocked.  I didn't find out until this morning when my girlfriend told me I needed to watch ESPN."

The uncertainty will surely change the course of the program and could ruin a recruiting class which was ready to take the school to another level.

"It will absolutely destroy recruiting this close to signing day," said CBS Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming.  "I only remember two other coaches— Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis— leaving this close to signing  day."

"For him to leave a couple of days before signing day you will see the vultures circle quickly and Rutgers could end up with a recruiting class like Penn State's."

The early candidates to replace Schiano are Miami coach Al Golden— a N.J. native— and FIU coach Mario Cristobal— a former-Rutgers assistant.

Whoever fills the vacancy might be scrambling for recruits just like the Rutgers of a decade ago.

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