By Kristian Dyer
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Eleven years, three months and one day ago, Greg Schiano stood at the podium at the Hale Center on the campus of Rutgers University and talked about his vision for the program. He spoke smoothly and calmly, his eyes often looking past the media gathered as he meandered through the story of his Jersey roots and his experience in the NFL and at the University of Miami.
He made it clear, he was here to turn around a program that heralded itself as “The Birthplace of College Football” yet had just one bowl game appearance in over a century of playing the game.
Schiano spoke boldly of winning the Big East and playing for national championships. When he left last week in a surprise move to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he left behind a trophy case lacking a conference trophy or BCS bowl appearances. Mission not accomplished in over a decade “On the Banks.”
But what he left behind was a foundation and now newly appointed head coach Kyle Flood is left to take the team to the next level. Where Schiano was the right man to build the program essentially from scratch, it is Flood who is the right man to carry on what Schiano envisioned.
Having been with the Scarlet Knights since 2005 as assistant head coach and offensive line coach, Flood knows the program and the swath of land Schiano called “The State of Rutgers” – extending from New Jersey to upstate New York, out to central Pennsylvania and down to Delaware and Maryland with dabbles into Florida. It is some of the deepest and richest recruiting turf in the country, the kind that top programs have traditionally poached from – and now it is up to Flood to defend the prep football talent in this area with Scarlet blood and tears. His dreams must be of a winning program but where Schiano majored in the minors, the new Rutgers head coach must dream and act big.
Flood’s job is now to build on the legacy of Schiano – and he’s doing just that.
With less than 48 hours officially on the job, Wednesday’s National Signing Day was the most storied in Rutgers football history. For the first time, the Scarlet Knights landed a top 25 class, boosted by the Monday night announcement on MSG Varsity that Don Bosco defensive end Darius Hamilton was becoming the program’s first ever five-star recruit. Flood also allayed fears that the blue-chip talent that had previously made up the program’s recruiting class would hemorrhage and fall apart, leaving the class broken. Instead in the wake of Schiano’s defection to the NFL, a move that even the most adamant Rutgers booster knows deep down their former head coach had to make, Flood managed to unite the would-be Knights and lost only one recruit.
In addition, Flood added a Rivals.com three-star athlete in Jevon Tyree and Maryland star wide receiver Ian Thomas. The fact that Flood finished this class strong and in fact built on it is a testament to the fact that Rutgers got the right man to continue the thankless job Schiano started in December, 2000.
Now, the real work begins and the expectations are as high for Flood as they were for Schiano when he was on the job just a week ago. The football team has yet to win the Big East let alone play in anything but a third-tier bowl game. If Flood is to take this program from irrelevant to suddenly relevant, he needs to take advantage of the 9-4 team he inherits that is as talented as any in the Big East.
A team that is perhaps as good as the 2006 Scarlet Knights who finished 11-2, winning the program’s first ever bowl game and finishing the season ranked No. 11 nationally.
In Flood’s first 72 hours on the job, we’ve seen a charismatic young coach who is poised and eloquent. Sadly, his demeanor was kept under wraps by the previous coaching regime, fearful of exposure. Here, Flood must shine in replacing a man who was synonymous with the program, whose very name and face seemed interchangeable with the university’s athletic program.
Where Schiano wielded power, Flood must grow and develop. He must nurture and build something that seems ready to bust at the seams. It is his job now to realize the potential that Schiano envisioned that cold day in December when he spoke about winning the conference and competing for national championships.
It was foolish talk then from Schiano, no one could believe that these perennial losers of college football could ever achieve those lofty goals. Now under Flood, they finally have that chance.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets and Rutgers football for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer