By Kristian Dyer
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PISCATWAY, N.J. – This is perhaps the best coaching job that Greg Schiano has done in his 11 years at Rutgers, taking a team that a year ago had among the worst offenses in the FBS and turning the Scarlet Knights into winners again. It hasn’t been pretty, in fact, it has often been ugly, but this is the finest coaching that Schiano has shown this program since he arrived here in December, 2000.
This was, after all, a team that went 4-8 last year, bringing to an end a run of five straight postseason appearances. Questions existed at quarterback after former U.S. Army All-American Tom Savage, a sophomore who was the most heralded recruit to ever come to Rutgers, transferred after the season to Arizona. It just seemed like Rutgers, with a young lineup on both sides of the ball, was going nowhere and doing it fast.
But that wouldn’t be the way of Schiano, the master builder who abhors shortcuts and obsesses over the details. He preached the F.A.M.I.L.Y. mantra to his team, the “Forget About Me I Love You” mentality that seemed to ring especially true after the Eric LeGrand tragedy last October. Schiano didn’t take shortcuts, bringing in junior college transfers en masse to plug holes and there wasn’t the promise of a quick fix. He talked again about chopping his way through the forest, and coming out the other end.
Schiano relied on his kids, and now they’re backing him up.
Saturday night before an announced 36,911 at High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers overcame a 17-3 fourth quarter deficit to beat South Florida 20-17. They didn’t play particularly well, in fact, the Scarlet Knights were inept for three quarters, but they never wavered once. The talent isn’t there like it was in 2006, but it is beginning to emerge, beginning to come out and show promise that the tide could be rising again along the Raritan. With the win, the Scarlet Knights are now bowl eligible.
This is a program that is Schiano in every way, shape and form.
He’s still that square-jawed linebacker who played at Bucknell and won three letters in the mid-80’s; he was never the biggest or fastest player but no one ever showed more heart. Even now when he comes out of the tunnel before the game, Schiano lowers his shoulders just a bit before sprinting out in the lead of his players and heading to the sideline – there is still a little bit of that blitzing linebacker who used to love closing the gaps and digging his helmet into a ball carrier. There are some rising stars on this team and one or two established ones, but Rutgers is winning this year based on an unflinching desire and a strong belief in themselves as a collective unit.
This alone can be credited to the man who oversees their program, who preaches his belief in them every day. The legacy of Greg Schiano may someday come down to wins and losses, bowl appearances and conference championships – or lack thereof – but it really shouldn’t. Instead, it should be measured in season’s like this.
A season that wasn’t supposed to be filled with wins.
It isn’t the 2006 season, that storied year where the program produced a memorable Thursday night upset over Louisville to propel them onto the national scene, capped off by an emphatic win over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl for their first ever bowl game win. That season was a year of expectations, with returning players such as Brian Leonard, Ray Rice, Courtney Greene and an experienced offensive line giving optimism during summer camp. There was anything but optimism “On the Banks” this past August as the program seemed mired in neutral at best.
Now with three games left in the regular season, Rutgers controls their own destiny and could, if they win out, capture the first ever Big East title in program history. It would be an accomplishment of heart and soul, however, as even optimistic fans were willing to settle and were hoping to just break even this season. But as we’re seeing this year, settling just isn’t the Schiano way.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets and Rutgers for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports. He can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer