By Kristian Dyer
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The defining moment from Thursday night’s 23-13 Rutgers win over South Florida won’t be Jawan Jamison’s spin move in the fourth quarter that froze a would-be tackler, or any one of a number of clutch throws by quarterback Gary Nova. It will be a little moment away from the field, when head coach Kyle Flood showed that he was the right man for the job — that would be the job of winning games and molding boys into men.
Moments before, freshman kicker Kyle Federico had barely made a 22-yard field goal to give the Scarlet Knights a 16-13 lead with 2:48 left in the game, line-driving a kick that barely squeaked inside the left upright. On the ensuing kickoff, Federico angled the kick to the nearside a little too much and booted the ball out of bounds. Suddenly, South Florida had possession at the 35-yard line, and a much shorter field to work with to tie the game or perhaps even win it.
It was the kind of mistake that could cost the team the game. It was a freshman mistake that has been done by hundreds of kickers before him.
Most coaches would have screamed at the freshman kicker for the gaffe. Many would have ignored Federico as he walked to the sideline. Some would have stared off into the distance in disgust or wonderment.
Not Flood, who went over and had a minute-long conversation with Federico. Calm and composed, there was no yelling or screaming, no great display of angst. The first-year head coach was having a teaching moment with a young man, barely old enough to drive, in what was the tightest game of his young coaching career.
Herein is why Flood was the right choice to replace Greg Schiano at Rutgers when Schiano bolted for the NFL last winter. When the program was a laughingstock, it needed a personality like Schiano to raise it from the proverbial ashes and to a place of respect. A strict disciplinarian, Schiano was the control freak of a coach who managed every finite detail, from player schedules to stadium expansion — and literally everything in between. The Scarlet Knights needed that type of man to will the program from the bottom reaches of college program to a place of respect.
Remember it was just eight years ago when there was serious, legitimate talk about Rutgers dropping down to what was then called 1-AA and leaving the Big East, such was the state of the program.
But now, Rutgers has made a bowl game every year but once since 2005 and has won five of them. They’ve had signature wins, become a staple on national television and have pieced together some of the nation’s better recruiting classes the last three years. This program no longer needs a Schiano – now with Tampa Bay at the recommendation of Bill Belichick.
It needs a Flood.
It needs a man who can nurture and mature young men with a blend of the strong, disciplinarian style of Schiano, and yet can bring a smile and a soft word when needed. When a player as young as Federico makes that mistake, he needed a head coach who could help him raise his head again, not one to cast fear and doubt on his shoulders.
In Flood, Rutgers has found that perfect mix at the perfect time.
He wasn’t the big-name coach that many fans of the Scarlet Knights originally wanted. Names like Mario Cristobal and Steve Addazio seemed to resonate with the fan base more than Flood, who was a lifelong assistant at the college level before becoming the program’s 29th head coach. But Flood was the right man to preserve a recruiting class that last season was among the best in the nation, and that also was ready to fall apart after Schiano’s abrupt departure. He reasoned with the recruits, he talked all but one of them from jumping ship and he showed them that he was going to be there for them.
In Schiano, Rutgers had a man who was synonymous with the school and who was perhaps bigger than the program — in many ways because he was the program. Football at the school was nothing in the past two decades before Schiano came in 2000, promising to create the “State of Rutgers” and dreaming of national championships. With the hiring of Flood, Rutgers got a man who won’t rule with the iron fist of his predecessor, but instead will show by his very nature the right way to be a football player and a man.
It is a lesson that Federico learned on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, when he could have been the loneliest man in the stadium. But he wasn’t — he had Flood next to him.
Kristian R. Dyer is a sports writer for Metro New York and contributes toYahoo! Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed here.
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